September 17, 2011
By Anna Livia
American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
Umm.. Ummm… That was a good barbeque!
No, they didn’t serve us alligator at the barbeque. But that’s a thought… Aransas National Wildlife Refuge held a BBQ dinner in appreciation for the volunteers who helped put out Whooping Crane decoys this past week for the counting experiment (see previous post from early this week.)We had brats and burgers is more like it. But, Dan and I took a break to go to the Visitor Center and check out the little pond there, where the infamous “Alligators Are Dangerous: Please Stay Behind The Fence” sign is posted. This would lead one to believe alligators might be seen there. And, indeed they were. We even got some pictures.
Alligators are opportunistic eaters. I would say, they are certainly not going to hunt down a human or be a menacing danger awaiting you to come stumbling out of your bayou bungalow so they can jump you in the middle of the night and make you their last meal before the go into hibernation. No, that is not likely. But, don’t get the idea that they are nice little “awwigators” and you can get next to them for a cozy “Smokey-the-Bear”picture, or feed them like you do sea gulls (even sea gulls will punish the overly eager generosity of the well meaning tourist.) No, alligators are out for a meal just like the next meat-eating animal and they will make toast of you if you molest or aggravate them. The saying, “Don’t feed the wildlife,” goes double for alligators.
As one writer puts it from the Florida Museum of Natural History, “Alligators are, like all crocodilians, opportunistic feeders and will take carrion if it becomes available and they are sufficiently hungry. They may also expand their choice of prey to include small dogs and other pets.” I like that choice of words, “expand their choice.” Yea, that’s about what I figured. They don’t exactly sit around dreaming of making a meal of you or me, but give them an opportunity, taunt them with a temptation and jaws before paws, if you know what I mean. The writer continues, “Alligators have been known in rare instances to attack children and even occasionally adults, usually because they mistake the human for much smaller prey, or they are provoked.” Let me guess, it’s usually the second scenario being most likely, they were provoked. That’s reassuring. They don’t expect me to believe alligators often mistake the size of their prey. “Oooops I ate a kid.” Is that kind of like the alligator apologizing, “Ooops I thought he was… like… a chicken, my bad.”
There is actually lots of cool stuff about alligators. BIG surprise there, right? What do they do besides eat mammals, big birds, big fish, other reptiles and even other alligators? Stop, stop right there. Other alligators? Are these beastesses cannibals too? Well… yes, they can be. Normally it’s large dominant males that will eat baby alligators. No one ever said they were gentlemen, folks. They are after all the largest reptile in Texas, or the United States for the matter, they don’t have to have manners.
Females on the other hand build awesome nests for their eggs, enclosures that are made up of vegetation and mud which are made to keep other things out. The female stays around these nests to protect the eggs from any threat and to break the nest open when she hears the young hatchlings breaking free from the eggs. When they hatch she carries about 8-10 babies in her mouth down to the water, pulling her tongue down to form a pouch in which they all sit. They are swished around in the water and encouraged to swim out of her mouth. I assume none of the babies resist the suggestion. It’s my guess they best get to swimming. After all who wants to linger around in an adult alligator’s jaw?
What of alligator romance? Can these carnivorous, cannibalistic, cold-blooded reptiles have a love life? You betcha! The low down on that is they use all kinds of senses, more senses than we can shake a stick at, to put the whoopin’ on the willin’! Their bellowing causes vibrations that get the message out there. They got the “head slappin’” (the motion of clapping their jaws down on the water to make a splash). If that doesn’t do the trick, what about the odours that they can emit from the musk glands under their chin? Some pretty sophisticated hormonal techno, don’t you say? We have to go to Walmart at least to buy some love spray. Not Mr. Alligator, he’s got it! Zeee fragrance is called “L’Eau Naturale.” If that doesn’t just blow us outta the water, then don’t let me get started on the complex “body postures” or the snout and back rubbing. These are some romancin’, love-hungry beastesses, alright! Watch out, on ladies night down at the Bayou, buddy! (Actual courtship can take several hours.) Actually their mating season is pretty exact, mid April – May.
One other cool thing about the alligator. Alligators make dens. They make underground dens where they stay during the winter and during drought seasons. Imagine the size of that hole! I have no idea, but my guess, ever come across a big hole near a swamp, don’t get curious!
So what good are alligators to their neighbors, other wildlife and their ecosystem? Apparently they are useful to their ecosystem. They are a big part of the control (can was say regulation) of prey species. Nice, we wouldn’t want the prey animals to get out of control, right? Good to have some balance, there, huh? Also I read that their nests are used by other animals who apparently feel that the benefits (the ready-made nest of nests) out-weigh the risks (the obvious.) That would be kind of like, we live in the dinosaur age, building a nest of our own is kind of a hassle and usually gets tromped on by huge reptiles, so instead of hiding from T-rex, maybe if we just shack up with him, in his nest he won’t notice. Not my normal line of thinking, but hey that’s why they call it “wildlife.”
Last but not least : Are alligators dangerous? More from the Florida Museum of Natural History, “ In some areas alligators are fed by humans, which is extremely dangerous and encourages alligators to approach humans aggressively expecting food. When left alone, alligators will stay away from humans and pose little threat.” Okay, how is that for brilliant? What do you expect from a huge, strong, hungry animal? Bottom line on the reptilian-human interaction: there need not be any. Have respect, stay where humans belong and you won’t have a problem. Otherwise, you basically get what you ask for. But who are we to complain? We like marinated and fried reptiles, no doubt. So there you have it: Alligator tastes good to us and we probably taste good to alligator.
Moral of the story? Alligators really can be dangerous and, of course, as is often the case, people are dumb. Have you ever noticed that despite the fact that alligators truly are dangerous, no one seems to be afraid of them? Alligators don’t have a “bad reputation” like some other animals (Javelinas for instance) for being “aggressive.” That’s because we know people are probably to blame, when it comes to alligators. We see them being taunted and teased all the time on T.V. Maniac biologists (as much as we love to see them do it) go trudging through swamps just to pull on alligator tails and escape, making it within inches of their lives! Then you have the alligator wrestlers. Then you have just everyday nut cases that just have to push the limits and see how close you can get to a reptile without ticking it off. Come on, we know we’re at fault. That’s why we don’t shrink in fear or become outraged when we hear about alligator attacks on dogs, people, etc. More than likely, someone was being stupid. It’s not hard, folks. Alligators are cool, but keep your cool. Keeping behind the fence at the Wildlife refuge is not such a big deal. Just remember, “Don’t be a heel, or you might be Mr. Alligator’s next meal.”