Where do American Alligators sunbathe? Anywhere they want to.
Adult males grow up to 15 feet in length and are able to lunge too quickly for my comfort. I have seen alligators fight each other in the water and it’s an impressive sight, what with water splaying everywhere and fish jumping like popcorn. These creatures with a brain the size of a walnut have my respect. Just a flick of their tail can break your leg. Opportunistic feeders, like unto an American teenage boy, they eat anything they can grab. On occasion, that extends from waterfowl and fish to include human- kind. Therefore, I have chosen to capture their appealing images with a l o n g lens.
Gators like Florida and tourists travel from all over the world just to see them. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been intent on spotting a rare migrating bird just to have a well-meaning visitor rush over to proclaim, “Look, there’s an alligator!” I smile and nod. There are about 2 million alligators in Florida.
Alligators know how to kick back. They’ve mastered the art of enjoying down time. If they’re not cruising lazily and often deceptively beneath glittering eyes and pointy nostrils, they’re baking their cold blooded hides in the South Florida sunshine.
As you may discern, I’ve never been too impressed by gators. That is until one day in early spring while walking the Anhinga Trail in Everglades National Park. A noise in the bushes that resembled a heavy piece of road-building equipment revving its engine caught my attention. Then I heard another and another. Unaware of any monumental construction projects in the Park I determined that gator mating season must have begun. Male gators, during April and May, indulge in impressing and suppressing the beauty, or should I say beauties, of their choice. This is done, in part, by throwing back their head and roaring like a lion. This earth shaking rumbling is also useful in driving off the male competition. These two males engaged in a “I can roar louder than you can” rivalry in front of a seemingly unimpressed female.
The smaller gator in the middle suddenly took off for the other side of the trail. I assume he lost the game and forfeited the prize. The larger gator just kept on rumbling. It’s amazing what a bit of testosterone can do.
On a recent trip to the Glades, I got to see gator courtship in action. A very large male positioned himself across the canal, arched his back, and began to engage in a series of rhythmic raise-your-head-and-roar, lower-your-back-and-vibrate-the-water moves. His intended approached and gently laid an admiring clawed forelimb on his back.
When behemoth boyfriend lowered his back until just his scutes, or ridges of bony back plates, broke the water he deepened his roar and began infrasound bellowing. Infrasound is lower than the level of human hearing, for which I am so grateful, but perfect for making the water dance across his back. To be honest, it’s a pretty impressive show even for this observing female.
The gig must have worked. The lady moved over to the gentleman’s side and held her head up, too. Not terribly acquainted with gator body language I can only assume that she was hooked.
This female gator has probably gone off to build her nest. Her mate, a playboy at heart, has gone on to other pursuits. She will lay 20-50 eggs and cover them with enough rotting debris to keep them warm. Momma gator hangs around for about 65 days until she hears her little ones croaking as they break through their shells. She diggs them free and protects them until they are self-sufficient at about 5 months of age.
Even gators are cute when they’re young–don’t you think?