How to Care for Your New Alligator
Aqualand's inside scoop on Alligator mississipiensis
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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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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