How Do Alligators Mate? Crocodile Courtship Explained For Kids | Kidadl


How Do Alligators Mate? Crocodile Courtship Explained For Kids

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Alligators belongs to the family Alligatoridae.

Currently, there are only two extant species of alligators left in the wild, the American alligator and the Chinese alligator. While the former is known by several other names such as gator, Florida alligator, Louisiana alligator, and Mississippi alligator, other names for the Chinese species are Yow Lung, T'o, and Yangtze alligator.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is native to South America and can be found in Florida, Texas, North and South Carolina, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Georgia, and Oklahoma. The Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) resides along the central Pacific coast of China, within the lower basin of the Yangtze River. The American species prefer any freshwater environment such as rivers, ponds, lakes, swamps, wetlands, or marshes and may even be found in brackish water habitats. Young alligators mostly prey on fish, worms, insects, and small vertebrates. As the reptiles grow, they start consuming larger prey which may include mammals, birds, and other reptiles. An alligator may often be seen lying on top of another, especially while basking in the sun.

While alligators look pretty similar to crocodiles, there are several physical differences between the two. For instance, a crocodile's snout is V-shaped and pointed, but that of an alligator is more rounded or U-shaped. Further, the two reptiles have different dental arrangements; while an alligator has exposed upper jaw teeth, crocodiles have interdigitating teeth, giving the impression of a toothy grin when its mouth is closed.

Now, let's find out what the reproductive and nesting behaviors of an alligator look like!

Reproduction In Alligators

Alligators are sexually reproducing animals, whereby male alligators and female alligators breed to produce offspring, and mating takes place in the water.

American alligators reproduce sexually and are oviparous, that is, lay eggs. Further, the eggs are internally fertilized in the female's body. The females lay the eggs in batches, with each clutch comprising an average of about 39 eggs. The eggs are produced in more than one clutch, and there size may be anything between 2-58 offspring at a time. An interesting fact about the reproduction process is that the number of eggs laid has a direct relation with the size of the mother alligator. The eggs are approximately the size of geese eggs, and the laying can last about an hour. The eggs undergo incubation in the nests for 65-70 days. The mother alligators are quite protective of their unhatched young ones and during the incubation period, stay near the nests on constant vigil for predators. The baby gators are called hatchlings and weigh about 2.3 oz (65 g) at birth. The babies remain with their mothers for about a year before becoming independent. In the case of the American gators, maturity is decided not by years but by the attainment of a certain body length. Usually, the female alligators take slightly longer than the males to reach a mature body size.

Next, the Chinese alligators, which they too are sexually reproducing animals, oviparous, and exhibit internal fertilization of the eggs. However, Chinese alligators lay an average of 10-40 eggs that hatch and develop into offspring, also called hatchlings at birth. The parental investment is much like the American alligators, with the female defending the nests from predators. The incubation period lasts for about 70 days, after which the mother carries its offspring from the nest to the water. The mother alligator may also help in the hatching of the eggs by rolling them around slowly in their mouth or cracking the shell lightly by holding the egg between the tongue and roof of the mouth. After the eggs hatch, the young alligators stay near their mother for the first winter.

How often do alligators mate, and when is the alligators' mating season?

Both the American and Chinese alligators are seasonal breeders and breed once a year. However, the mating season of the two species does not coincide.

American alligators breed once a year, and the search for a potential mating partner begins in spring, usually in April. Finding a mating partner is a challenging and time-consuming task for both the male and female alligators since each has to find a partner that is fit in terms of age, size, and willingness. Plus, they also have to engage in courtship rituals. A male American alligator usually mates with one female in a breeding season but will find different partners for other breeding seasons. Although a male alligator mates in the same general sites every year, it will actively seek a place where it can mate. Meanwhile, the female alligator focuses on constructing the nest. The breeding season commences in April when the gators usually begin to court and continues up to June. The eggs are typically laid in early June.

Likewise, Chinese alligators breed once a year. The breeding period of this species commences a little later than spring in June. Generally, breeding takes place a month after the rainy season begins. While mating occurs in June, the egg-laying continues up to mid-July. While the male alligators usually fertilize several females in one mating season, a female alligator keeps to one partner every breeding season.

Alligator reproduction is one of the many interesting characteristics of the reptile.

Courtship Behavior Of Alligators

Like most other animals that exhibit sexual reproduction, alligators, too, have elaborate courtship rituals preceding the mating process.

When it comes to courtship behavior, American alligators are quite expressive, both in terms of vocalization and physical gestures. During the mating time, the male alligators usually slap their head on water as a signal to a potential female partner. In addition, the animals use infrared signals that further help in gauging the size and strength of the target. Moreover, both the males and females leave a trail of secretions from their anal glands, which serve as pheromones and help the alligators locate a potential partner. While there is no specific alligator mating call, the males often give out a bellow to avoid crowding of their territory by other males. Bellowing calls are also given out by both the male and female after the completion of egg-laying, usually to claim territory.

The Chinese alligators, too, use a bellowing call to locate potential mates. Both males and females use physical gestures to establish communication, such as striking the water with their lower jaws. Other gestures during the breeding process include the males creating barely audible vibrations in the water to attract females or a female rubbing up against a male to indicate readiness. Another feature common to both males and females is the production of an attractive scent from the musk gland located below the lower jaw. This scent acts as a pheromone to attract potential mates.

What do alligator nests look like?

When it comes to nesting, alligators take quite the trouble in preparing a safe space for their eggs and young hatchlings.

The female American gators start building their nest during early summer. The animal usually selects a spot that has abundant vegetation, leaves, debris, and mud; the vegetation helps the reptiles shade their nest adequately. Further, the nest is located at least 10-16 ft (3-5 m) away from the water. The females usually build the nest out of whatever resources are available close by and complete the entire construction using its tail. Once the egg-laying is done, the female covers the nest to protect it from the environment and predators such as raccoons, predatory birds, otters, opossums, black bears, hogs, and even humans. The females usually remain close to the nest, trying to fend off any natural predators. Furthermore, since alligator eggs are temperature-sensitive, the female ensures that there is a water source nearby to dampen the nest when necessary.

Similarly, the Chinese female alligator makes a mound-shaped nest out of mud and vegetation. The nest is located close to a water source. The females use the coordinated action of their limbs to pile up the vegetation to a height of a little less than 3.3 ft (1 m). Additionally, the nest is usually located close to a burrow so that the mother can incubate and tend to her nest simultaneously. The egg-laying is done in a depression on top of the mound.

How is the gender of an alligator baby decided?

The gender of a baby alligator is decided by the incubation temperature of the eggs.

The eggs of the American gator are sensitive to environmental temperatures for 25-30 days after they have been laid. Females are born if the incubation temperature is less than or equal to 87.8°F (31°C). On the other hand, males are born when the temperature is 91.4°F (33°C) or higher. An even ratio of female and male hatchlings is produced if temperatures are around 89.6°F (32°C).

Similarly, the gender of Chinese alligator hatchlings is sensitive to the temperature at which the eggs are incubated. At temperatures below 82.4°F (28°C), the young reptiles are born females. On the other hand, male hatchlings are produced if the temperatures are higher than 91.4°F (33°C). However, the critical temperature at which Chinese alligator eggs hatch to produce an even number of males and females is 87.8°F (31°C).

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked finding out how alligators mate then why not find out how butterflies mate, or learn how do dolphins sleep?

<p>With a Master of Arts in English, Rajnandini has pursued her passion for the arts and has become an experienced content writer. She has worked with companies such as Writer's Zone and has had her writing skills recognized by publications such as The Telegraph. Rajnandini is also trilingual and enjoys various hobbies such as music, movies, travel, philanthropy, writing her blog, and reading classic British literature.&nbsp;</p>

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