How to Care for Your New Alligator

Aqualand's inside scoop on Alligator mississipiensis

 
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Alligator Factoids

Origin

Southeastern USA

Temperature

70 + degrees

Size Grows to 16 feet
Age  Decades -- at least five

Substrate

Water dweller

Security

Only vulnerable when small or in the egg

Foods

Loves most foods -- live or dead

Breeding

Female builds nest and protects eggs for two months

Threats

Large male alligators, birds, large fish, raccoons

 

 


LA
You kiss alligators very carefully -- even very little ones.

Origin:  Alligators lurk in many marshes and swamps in the southeastern USA -- especially those along the Gulf of Mexico.  Loss of habitat and poachers put them on the endangered list for a while a couple decades ago.  However, like those pesky Poltergeists ... “They’re back.”

LA
At room temperatures, alligators are very docile, even a little limp.

LA
Lotsa nap time unless kept warm.

Temperature:  Alligators don’t even get into the lunch line at temperatures below 70 degrees.  In the wild, they crawl into their dens and chill out -- no need to feed until the return of warm weather.  Warm them up to 80 degrees and watch their appetites improve.  They use those same dens to cool off during the hottest days.

LA
Young alligators have yellow bars.  They lose these as they age.

LA
Baby caimans.  Nasty little biters.  Good fish eaters.  At Aqualand decades ago.

LA
Dwarf caiman at four-foot size.  Even nastier.  And lazy.  With brown eyes (not yellow).

LA
Same guy (as 4 pix above) under a heat lamp.  They get friskier under heat lamps.

 

Size:  Hatching from an egg the size of a duck egg, baby alligators start out eight to twelve inches long.  For the first six years they grow about a foot per year.  Male alligators grow to 14+ feet long and easily exceed half a ton in weight -- a true force of nature to reckon with.  Females top out at twelve feet and weigh much less, but you sure don’t want to fool with a mama alligator with babies.  Even hungry big bull males don’t want to mess with mama gators.

LA
Gators can really clamp down, but you can hold their mouths shut easily.

LA
Is that a grin or what?

Substrate:  Alligators live in the water.  They can run surprisingly fast on land but can tote that half a ton much easier in the water.  Add some duckweed and make it a gator wonderland (and maybe some smelly mud and smelly algae).  In the wild, gators float at the surface with only their eyeballs and nostrils showing.  Poachers can spot them easily at night.  Their eyes glow orange/red in the beam of a flashlight.  

LA
Gator skin makes excellent leather products.

Security:  Baby gators are as vulnerable as any small lizard.  Mama watches over the tasty eggs (for three months) until they hatch.  Once the hatching babies start chirping, she digs out the little guys and carries them to the water in her mouth.  Their mama protects them from harm for as long as three years.  She may adopt other youngsters into her pod as well. 

LA

Foods:  Young gators eat the same foods as any other little lizards:  insects, shrimps, fish, worms, crayfish, birds, frogs, eggs or any other bite-size critter living or dead they run across. Adults graduate to larger fishes, swamp-dwelling mammals (muskrats, capybaras, etc), smaller gators, snakeheads, poodles, snakes, clarias batrachus, swamp monsters, turtles, or whatever they find.  On the gator ranches, alligators get lots of chicken.

LA
It takes three hands to hold an enraged foot-long alligator.  Just try to count those teeth.

 

Dentition:  In spite of never flossing, alligators grow an excellent crop of teeth -- about 80 -- that work very well.  Can’t give you an exact number because they keep snapping their mouths shut.

LA
Wipe that silly grin off your face.  You are much too young to think about breeding ...

LA
... On the other hand this eight-foot long albino alligator is plenty big enough.

Breeding:  Females reach sexual maturity at six feet.  Both sexes give off a musk when interested in breeding.  Males bellow loudly, rare up, and slap their heads on the water to make a big splash with the much more refined lady alligators.  Both rub snouts and rub each others’ backs.  There’s more, but this is a family web site.  The gravid female lays her eggs in a nest she digs well above the water level.  Like most reptile eggs, alligator eggs drown rapidly under water. 

LA
Don't try this with an adult alligator.

Ecological Importance:  When wetlands dry up during warm weather, alligators dig their waterholes deeper.  These serve as important water sources for other wildlife during dry periods.  They also attract food within snapping range of the lurking alligator.  They aren’t doing Mother Nature any favors.  If their holes dry up completely, they head for the nearest backyard swimming pool.  If removed by the Gator Police, they head right back to the same swimming pool.  So, they now get exported to the nearest Gator Ranch.

Literary Importance:  Alligators have achieved several literary milestones.  Who could forget Hanna-Barbera’s Wally Gator?  In his day, he was better known than the Croc Hunter.
And those fun-loving New Yorkers that flushed their baby alligators down their toilets, sure sold a lot of newspapers at the local super market.
Not exactly literature, but winning football players love to pour Gatorade over the heads of winning coaches.
Burt Reynolds starred in and directed the movie Gator.  Sadly, this movie had very little to do with actual alligators.
Neville Brand starred in the cult classic Gators where he played a bartender in the Everglades.  Every night at closing, he tossed the leftovers out the back door where the gators grew incredibly fast on buffalo wings and cigarette butts.  As so often happens in movies with large reptiles, Mr. Brand started tossing recalcitrant rednecks out back also.  But you need to see the movie yourself.
Here’s a clue.  Mr. Brand was not in Gators II.  I hope that doesn’t give away too much of the plot.
Don Johnson kept a hungry alligator “watch dog” on his boat in Miami Vice.  He fed his gator a lot of KFC.
In Lake Placid Betty White raised a hefty, bigger than trophy-size alligator that kept eating the local cows.  It eventually grabbed a helicopter piloted by a scientist.  The sad ending saw the demise of the helicopter-eating hero.  But on a happier note, Betty White was raising another pod in her backyard as the credits began to roll.

LA
Alligators are cute little lizards but we can't recommend them as pets.

Last Words:  You probably noticed that we did not give you the origins of the word alligator.  It is not a legal term meaning one who or that which makes allegations.  It came from the Conquistadors taking their Florida vacations.  Look it up.  Alligators and caimans are illegal in Des Moines because our City Council saw all those movies.  LA

© 2005 LA Productions

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