COURTSHIP. Alligators begin courtship as the cool temperatures of winter give way
to the warmer, more comfortable air and water of spring. The time of
year depends on the location, as the temperature varies, especially from
north to south; so, 'gators in North Carolina may be a few weeks behind
the schedule of their relatives in the Everglades. At this point, their
first priority is to fill their bellies after the relatively long period
of partial or total fasting. Once this fasting has been broken (though
they continue to eat at will, of course), their next priority is several
weeks of courtship, followed by the mating of generally agreeable
partners. (Courtship behavior is discussed in more detail in the
An alligator becomes sexually mature when it reaches a length of about 6
ft./ 1.8m, and will seek a mate when courtship season arrives with the
warming of spring in March, continuing until June (at least by Florida
temperature standards). Relatively complex
alligator courtship rituals have been well studied, and are comprised of
bodily postures, movements, touching, secretion of musk, and
The musk scent of the alligator, which smells (to this author) a
mixture of pungent and sweet, is excreted from a pair of glands just
under the lower mandible and another just inside the ventral slit called
the cloaca, located just forward of the hind legs.
Water must be deep enough for the alligators to copulate,
Copulation involves the male turning its body about 1/4 turn of
axis toward the female with its genital member meeting the
cloaca of its mate. The ejection of semen seems to be done at
will rather than by local stimulation. The total time of
copulation may be only a few minutes. In both sexes, the
genitalia are located within the cloaca, which is a small slit
found on the ventral (bottom) region of the body just behind the
Larger, more powerful males tend to dominate a territory
although females may be fertilized by multiple males. A 2009 study
revealed that 70% of the females tended to remain 'loyal' mates to a single male.
image compares an alligator egg's size and shape (at left) with
that of a chicken.
mother alligator will begin building her nest in June, usually doing so
close to the water but building it to remain relatively dry. The nest mound, about 3 ft/1m high and twice that size in diameter, is constructed of vegetation debris and soil/mud, the top
of which she will scoop out and in which she will lay an average of 35
The materials and placement of the nest ideally provide adequate
heat and moisture. If the
temperature is too high or low for an extended period, the
developing young may die or may hatch with deformed bodies.
Embryos can die from prolonged water intrusion, too.
The preserved, deformed head of a juvenile alligator
is shown in the image at right; such misshape may occur due to
extreme temperatures in the nest.
Clearly, unpredictable, unusual fluctuations in the climate can wreak havoc on
alligator nests. The health and survival of the embryos depend
heavily, even in the subtlest of measures, on mother's intuitive
Hatching occurs about 73 days later, with the young breaking free from their eggs
and "pipping" or chirping to their mother for assistanc
The alligator mother is a most attentive one, and will help her progeny
to water by carrying them in her mouth and releasing them in their new liquid environment.
The video above shows a female alligator in the process of
laying eggs in her nest at night.
MATERNAL CARE. Protection of the nest by the
mother alligator is a serious business. The mother will rarely
stray far from the eggs and will warn, or attack if necessary,
any animal that approaches it. There are reports of alligator
mothers performing great feats of "courage" and "audacity" in
their nest-guarding. One alligator was reported to have jumped
into the boat when biologists mahaged to take her eggs into
their watercraft, and another lept and hissed at a helicopter as
it prepared to land near a nest! A video posted to the Internet
showed footage from a wildlife/trail camera that captured the
scene of a mother alligator vigorously fending off an adult
Black Bear (Ursus americanus floridanus) that showed
interest in her nest.
The subject of the care for the young once they have hatched is
discussed in the "Neonate
courting each other, alligators...kiss?
manner of speaking, yes.
Alligators seem to 'enjoy'
rubbing snouts, which contain along the edges of the jaws many
tiny, very sensitive, button-like domes called integumentary
receptors. The image above was captured in June in northern
Florida - well into mating season.
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