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Gators in Love
Photos & Text by R. Munguia

Yes, it’s that time of the year for gators; and they’re not shy at all. It’s mating season for the hundreds of gators that live in around Polk, so be aware they can be noisy and feisty this time of the year. Many are in the lookout for nesting sites

Alligators mate in the water, and contrary to popular belief, their loud bellowing is not related to breeding; neither is it produced by the male alone. Both male and female can bellow and it may be linked to their need to announce their presence to one another. This behavior can be observed during the hottest months, when gators are most active and encounters with other members are frequent. Just before the gator bellows, its torso vibrates with such frequency that water seems to spray out of its back. This event is called the water dance.

Two months after the mating takes place, the female will build a nest of earth and plant debris 2-3 feet tall. This usually takes place during the month of June. Nests are usually located 10 to 15 feet away from the water. Using her hind feet, she will dig a large hole in the center of the mound to deposit 20-50 eggs. Most eggs are lain at at night. The female then closes the top of the mound, and sits on it to protect the eggs from predators. The decomposing vegetation inside the nest chamber provides the proper temperature for incubation. Sex is defined by temperature, as is the case with most reptilians. Those eggs incubated between 90°F-93°F are males, while those at temperatures ranging from 82°F-86°F are females. Eggs in the 87°F-89°F provide an even male to female ratio.

Most broods hatch about 60 days later during the months of August and September. Mother gators assist the hatchlings by removing the nesting material covering the nest and, occasionally, when the nest is too far from water, she might even carry them to the water using her mouth. Their mouths are equipped with about 80 teeth, and powerful muscles capable of producing up to 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch.

Baby gators are about 8 inches long when they hatch. Their bodies are marked with yellow and black bands. The mother usually stays near the little gators to offer protection from predation by birds or other larger gators.

Alligators are found from Texas along the Gulf of Mexico to Florida and up the Atlantic coast to North Carolina. The species is protected by law in each of the states from harassment and abuse while the federal government regulates the trade in Alligator products. In Florida, it’s illegal to feed alligators.

Gator Facts

  • Gators get to measure up to 13 feet in lenght and weight more than 600 pounds.
  • Alligators can run at speeds of up to 20mph for short periods of time.
  • The alligator became the official state reptile of Florida in 1987.
  • Alligators may live up to 50 years in the wild and up to 80 in captivity.
 

American Alligator
(Alligator mississippiensis)

Young gator eating a crayfish.
An alligator basking.
This alligator is bellowing, a type of territorial display.
Gators spend a lot of time gathering the heat necessary to digest their food.
 

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