Amazing Courtship Behavior of the American Alligator
The alligator is a rare success story of a species that was saved from extinction and is now thriving thanks to habitat conservation, legal protection, and efforts to reduce the demand for alligator products. Biologists believe that several million alligators now inhabit the freshwater swamps, rivers, and lakes of the southeastern states, from Texas to North Carolina. One of the best places in North America to observe alligators is at Everglades National Park in Florida. During the spring, it is easy to observe their impressive courtship displays.
Check out this movie I made (which includes incredible footage of bellowing male adult alligators at time stamp 2:40)!
Early explorers and naturalists, including John James Audubon and William Bartram, wrote about the amazing courtship behavior of alligators, describing their “roaring bellows that resounded through the swamps…not only shaking the air but causing the earth to tremble,” and claiming “they could be heard for miles around.”
While this may stretch the truth, their behavior certainly is remarkable and it’s a spectacle not to be missed! During our early morning hike, the swamps came alive suddenly with bellowing sounds of a dozen or so gators, conducting a chorus of bellows which echoed across the water in a most primaeval way, making me feel like I was in a scene from Jurassic Park!
The bellowing is highly ritualized and consists of four movements –the male takes a big gulp of air, raises its head out of the water, then arches its tail. Then the coolest part is that he produces an infrasonic sound wave that is so powerful as to make the water dance around his torso, followed immediately by an audible bellow.
This behavior serves as a sexual attractant and advertises the size, sex and social position of each individual and helps them set up territories during the early part of the season.
If a male such as this one is lucky, he will attract a mate and the female will wrap her body around the male’s neck while he continues to bellow. Wow, wouldn’t that be a sight to see.
Another fantastic spot to view gators up close is at Corkscrew swamp, a 13,000 acres Audubon Society preserve that protects the largest remaining stands of old growth bald cypress in North America. A loop trail takes you through oak hammocks, pine flatwoods, wet prairies and cypress swamps which is also home to the endangered Wood Stork, a species we were lucky to observe.
Like all reptiles, these cold blooded alligators spend a lot of time snoozing in the sun to warm up their large bodies which can get to be 15 feet long. Some grow to a thousand pounds and may live for 50 years.
Alligators are the top predators in their wet steamy habitat, feeding on fish, frogs, turtles, birds and mammals.
The American Alligator has lived on earth for over 150 million years, sharing it with the dinosaurs, their closest relatives, until 65 million years ago, when somehow they escaped the mass extinction event that wiped out their more famous cousins, along with many other forms of life on earth. Here’s hoping they live another million years! Thanks for joining us on our alligator tale!