10 Things You Probably Didn't Know About Alligators

March 15, 2017  •  1 Comment

For several years I have had the pleasure and the opportunity to view the nursery of a mama alligator.  I drive the beverage cart at a local golf course as a part time job which rewards me with many glimpses into the wonderful world of southeastern North Carolina nature.  In addition to mama and her babies I get to see on a regular basis: a bald eagle family, several otters, great blue herons, little blue herons, snowy egrets, flocks of ibis, wood storks, grebes, mergansers, and endless cormorants and turtles...but I digress, this blog is about mama and her babies.

This is not the first year she has brought a batch of hatchlings to the nursery.  This sweet example of a mother putting up with her offspring climbing all over her is from May 2014.

Alligators grow very slowly so mama must stick around to protect them for several years.  The average female does not mature sexually until they reach 6-7 feet (generally 10-12 years and for males 8-12 years).  Courtship usually begins in early April and mating in May-June, the female will build the nest in July and lay approximately 32-46 eggs.  One third of nests are destroyed by predators (mainly raccoons) or flooding and of the 32-46 eggs generally 24 hatchlings will emerge after 63-68 days of incubation.  Mama will transfer the hatchlings in her mouth from the nest to her chosen nursery in the water and begin her time of vigilant protection.  This is mama standing watch over this year's batch which were hatched sometime in late August 2016.  My first good count of this batch was 27 so she was a little above average.

She must protect the babies from the water birds (mainly blue herons, egrets, and osprey), otters, fish and other alligators.  Of the 27 hatchlings statistically 10 will survive to one year, 8 of those 10 will become sub-adults (4 feet), and 5 of those 8 will reach maturity (6 feet).  Here is a shot I got of one of her hatchlings only about a week after she brought them to the nursery.  It may look fierce in all it's bravado but the odds are not ever in it's favor.

Mama tries to keep an eye on them.

And yes, they can swim right from the time they are brought to the nursery.

Alligators stop feeding when ambient temps drop below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and become dormant below 55 degrees F and will only emerge on warm days to soak up some heat.  This is one of the last shots I got of the hatchlings before they went into their den with Mama for the winter, at that point there were about 23 of them.

Due to our mild winter and unseasonably warm temps the hatchlings emerged from the den in February.  Surprisingly to me and many local families from Brunswick County to Myrtle Beach who had become interested in this gator family I had been photographing, the survivor count was 19!  They were still trying to collect warmth so I would often see them all piled up on each other.

So, for now that is the story of Mama and her babies.  I hope you enjoyed the images and some fun facts about alligators and as the beautiful spring weather approaches keep me in mind to photograph YOUR family!


Comments

Diane Hassler(non-registered)
My husband and I have also been watching an alligator family since last summer. Mama is not always right next to them, but she is ever watchful from a short distance. Whenever we are nearby, they all stay incredibly still. She certainly has them well trained!
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