Finding each other
Though large alligators are generally solitary animals, they have managed to develop complex mating rituals. When the weather gets warm in the spring, male and female alligators begin looking for mates. They do this by making low bellowing sounds, announcing their presence and sending vibrations through the water. They also engage in "head-slapping," swinging the head up and down, and slapping the surface of the water. Like most animals, alligators use scent as well, releasing an odor from their musk glands. Alligators are not monogamous.
When alligators find potential mates, they will proceed with their courtship by rubbing and pressing each others' snouts and backs. Pressing behavior seems to be particularly important, with alligators submerging their mates, pressing them underneath the water in a sort of contest of strength, and even straddling their heads or mounting them while the partner is submerged under the water. This behavior appears to stimulate further courtship. Female alligators often mount males, and this appears to stimulate further courtship by the male. Copulation itself is very short, usually less than 30 seconds.
After mating, the female will go to her nest, which is usually made earlier in the season. The nest is made by mounding up mud and vegetation, and after mating, the female will use her back legs to make a bowl-shaped depression at the top of the mound. She will then lay 20 to 25 eggs, and cover them with dirt and leaves. The temperature in the nest determines whether the babies are male or female. Mothers stay near their nests for the incubation period, which is around 65 days.
When the young are ready to hatch, they will call their mother from inside the eggs. The mother will then remove the dirt and vegetation from the top of her mound, and the hatchlings slowly emerge from the eggs. The mother will carry the babies in her mouth to the edge of the water and gently drop the babies in. The baby alligators form a pod, and stay close to each other, and their mother, for at least a year.
- Photo Credit Image by Jan Kronsell
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