ALLIGATORS AT BRAZOS BEND STATE PARK page 6
This page was born 5/21/2002.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 10/06/2002
Images and contents on this page copyright © 2002 Richard M. Dashnau

 Here are my other alligator pages:                  OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1  Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 2 Spiders at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 4
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 5
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 7

This is page 6 of my continuing observations of alligators ( and some other animals) at Brazos Bend State Park.
 
May 05, 2002  After seeing a copperhead near Hoot's Hollow trail, I continued on, encountering a rather fiesty 2 foot alligator (well, he just haughtily watched me pass, as he stayed near the trail). I got near my usual area, but did not see any activity immediately. I eventually found a small (about 5-foot) alligator near shore, and facing the trail. Previous experience has led me to believe that this alligator probably intended to cross the trail to Pilant Lake. I watched this one for a while, until I noticed a large male swimming from the opposite shore of Elm Lake and heading in my direction.  However, it turned and slowly swam into a small inlet on the opposite shore, where it stopped. I was slowly moving towards the piers on Elm lake when the large alligator made a loud "bellow/headslap" (growl/headslap) from the opposite shore. Although I heard it, I didn't get to see it.  However, after this, he started moving again, coming again to my side of the lake, and towards my position.  He stopped very close to the shore, and waited there. I thought he'd attempt to cross, but a group of visitors passed by, and he moved off a bit, to a position about 15 feet from shore, and behind some wild rice. In the meantime, I looked across the trail, and saw that the smaller alligator (7-8 foot female) had come back to the culvert opening and was sitting in the water.  This was almost directly across the trail from where the large male was.  As I was wondering what I should do next, the female in Pilant Lake began to bellow (FEMALE BELLOWS, below, or flv video clip 338kb) , and the large male bellowed back from behind the rice. This was a short bout, of about 4 bellows each.  After a few minutes, I was able to see the large male once again approaching the shore. I once again thought the he'd leave the water and cross, but then he turned away. I looked up and saw another large alligator swimming towards us from the opposite bank of Elm Lake. He was just rounding the corner, when the alligator in front of me began turning. The distance between them was at least 40 feet when the closer male began to turn.  "My" alligator moved out in a direct line to intercept the approaching male (they were almost the same size).  When they were about 8 feet from each other, the approaching male turned around and began to retreat. "My" alligator continued pursuit, and the retreating male began swimming rapidly away (THE CHASE, below, or flv video clip 1,126 kb).

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------- FEMALE BELLOWS--------THE CHASE--- ---SIX-FOOTER WALKING-
 When both alligators got near the bend, the pursuing alligator stopped, and the "loser" continued swimming back around the bend. The large alligator once again approached my shore. This time, it came close to shore, but moved out through the rice, this time advancing on a much smaller alligator, which also retreated. The large male then approached the shore and paused for a while.   However, this time, he approached very close to the shore (about 2 feet away). As I was waiting, some park visitors came by, and some of them noticed a pair of smaller (about 4 or 5 foot) alligators about 30 feet away. I moved towards them and as I did, one of these smaller alligators approached the shore. We watched happily as this one walked out of the water, and then rested with its head near the edge of the trail. After about 5 minutes, it got up and crossed the trail (flv video 1,156kb or SIX FOOTER WALKING,above), to the great enjoyment of the watching visitors (and myself!).  After this, I moved back towards the big male (he was at least 10 feet long), and not soon after I got into position he got up and left the water, moving far enough to get his tail completely out before he "plopped" down.(OUT OF THE LAKE, below, or flv video 322kb)  He stayed stretched out long enough for a number of people to pass. Then he got up and crossed the trail.(MOVING SLOW, below, or flv video 803kb)  After this, I moved back towards 40-Acre lake, where I'd left my car. At the Observation Tower, there were two alligators (about 5 to 6 feet long) that were feeding in the shallow pool at the head of Pilant Slough. This was quite interesting, since most of us don't often see alligators feeding. These two moved all around the pool, and sometimes foraged directly under where we were standing--on the concrete wall where the floodgate was. (CHOMP!, below)

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--OUT OF THE LAKE-----MOVING SLOWLY--------------------CHOMP!-------COME HERE, I WON'T HURT YOU.
While they were foraging, I observed some very odd behavior. Well, it looked odd, although it seemed to be functional. The alligator would move near the shore, and suddenly begin fanning one of its forelegs  (flv video 538kb,or COME HERE,above)
in a sort of "come-here" motion. Then, it would turn its head sideways, towards the moving foot, and grab something.  They did this often. Here are two more short clips showing this behavior.  Alligator Fishing one (flv video, 533 kb) Alligator Fishing two (flv video, 288 kb). Sometimes, the alligator would be completely submerged, and then I could see just the foreleg coming out of the water, and moving around.
I guessed that the alligators might have been harvesting crawfish, or possibly tadpoles, but in any case something slow enough for them to grab this way. David Heinicke, one of the park naturalists, thought this might be the prey as well. Looking closely at the video, I can see lots of small fish jumping away from the alligator.  Perhaps the alligators were harvesting mouthfuls of minnows.  In one other behavior we saw,  the alligator moved backwards a few steps, slowly swishing its tail, and then moving sideways towards the shore. It then would hook its tail towards the shore, and do the "foreleg scoop", and snatch some food.
I had some errands to attend to, so I had to leave the park earlier than usual today. However, I certainly saw a lot!

May 25, 2002   I saw a little social interaction between some alligators this morning. A few alligators had gathered around the last pier on Elm Lake, mostly because they wanted to try to steal from the people fishing there. One of these was a large male, at least 10 feet long. As I watched, this male once leisurely swam over towards a smaller alligator (about 6 feet long) and caused it to move away. This was all done at a leisurely pace. Then, this male moved from where it had been for some time (30 to 60 minutes), and went around the bend of the lake. When it did, it encountered another alligator, about 8 feet long. The two alligators faced each other, from about 20 feet apart, for about 15 minutes. After this time, the larger alligator (which I assumed was the one that "owned" this particular territory), slowly moved towards the smaller one(FIRST CONFRONTATION, BELOW, or flv video 313kb). The 8- footer moved quickly towards the shore, and the large one stopped moving (MOVE ASIDE, BELOW, or flv video 632kb). It seemed to drift past a bit (BIG ONE MOVES PAST, BELOW), and slowly turned towards the smaller one, which "made a break" and swam with some haste away from-but close to- shore and around the bend, in the direction of the pier (BETTER PART OF VALOR, BELOW, or flv video 564 kb).
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   FIRST CONFRONTATION               MOVE ASIDE!                       BIG ONE MOVES PAST       THE BETTER PART OF VALOR   THIS IS *MY* DOMAIN!
 The large alligator began to pursue, that is, it increased speed briefly, then stopped. After this, it moved towards the shore, and assumed "bellowing position". It remained this way for a few minutes, and then performed a "short-bellow/headslap" (growl/headslap)(this sounds like a short, deep growl punctuated by a headslap, but review of the video shows a brief vibration of the back, as in bellowing. I believe that this vibration, combined with the headslap, must be detectable underwater for some distance)( MY DOMAIN, ABOVE, or flv video 634kb). After this, it remained at rest (no further display, no bobbing, no tail arch, no high flotation).
Before, during, and sometime after this little event,  at least one--and sometimes more-- alligators would be hanging around the pier, acting like delinquents, and generally being a nuisance. At various points along the Elm Lake trail, they also started bothering fishermen. The pictures below show one of these alligators.  Note the jaws slightly agape (I'M JUST FLOATING)
in the first image. I've noticed this in alligators who are hunting. This position could also make more sense when one thinks about function of the DPRs (noted below).  If the mouth is already open, then the grab for food could take a bit less time.  On the other hand, depending on the size of the prey. if the jaws were closed at the start of a quick sideways lunge for food, then opened suddenly during the lunge, a slight pressure difference could form which might serve to draw prey into the mouth.  This alligator seemed to be the one who preferred this area. The others would come by, and then leave. Look closely at WHEN HE GETS A FISH, and you will be able to see the fishing line going into the water. We do NOT feed the alligators at Brazos Bend Park. Visitors who are fishing, and attract alligators, are advised to move to another pier, or otherwise leave the immediate area.  The alligators have the right of way in the park. If one takes your fish or your bait, cut the line and let him have it.  Do not feed caught fish or leftover bait to the alligators.  Alligators will follow movement in the water (see the note below) and some have learned to associate a moving float (or bobber) with food immediately behind it. It's generally asking for trouble to continue fishing near an alligator. One an alligator assesses you, and decides you are not a threat, it can become an implacable pursuer of what it wants.  It will just "high walk" over to what it wants and try to take it.  At this point, if a human, or anything tries to stop it, it becomes a challange.  Here are two short video clips of the delinquent at the pier.
Click on clip one (flv video 335kb) or clip 2 (flv video 419kb).  Clip one shows three alligators.
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--IM JUST FLOATING---------     ---------WHEN HE GETS A FISH...---            --WHAT'S GOING ON OVER THERE?
Oh!  One other VERY COOL thing.
Evidently, the ISOs (Integumentary Sense Organs) that I've mentioned before (see Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 4 ) have been the subject of recent study. I'd mentioned that these ISOs were probably used for detection of movement in water (I read this elsewhere, and my observations also seemed to verify it). This recent study evidently has proven that this is the case. These ISOs (called DPRs, or "Dome Pressure Receptors" in the study), have been found to be very sensitive to pressure changes in water. The researcher, Daphne Soares, has done some very interesting work. For more information, try these links: NPR radio , University of MarylandI think this is pretty cool! And, Ms. Soares has gained my admiration.
The image MY BRAIN, below, taken Sunday (the 26th), shows me preparing to do an alligator video interpretive program at the park.
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--------------MY BRAIN                    WHAT A CUTIE!        ------------   THERE SHE GOES
June 02, 2002   This morning, I was on the trail by Elm Lake. I'd been watching two alligators that were close to shore. since I figured that they'd be crossing the trail soon (to enter Pilant Lake). They didn't.  However, I was talking to a family who were visiting the park, and talking about the two alligators. As I watched, the large male alligator I'd been watching raised it's back out of the water and neared shore. It had been totally submerged except for its head. I had the small group of people step back a little, so that he might exit the water (another couple of people happened to be passing by). We were watching the large male, when a young boy, about 4 or 5 years old, I guess, pointed BEHIND me, and said "LOOK AT THE ALLIGATOR!". I turned my head, and sure enough, there was one coming across the path. It stopped when it noticed us. (WHAT A CUTIE, above),  and rested for just a minute or so. Then it got up and crossed the trail. (THERE SHE GOES, above). I refer to it as "she" because it was smaller, and also because its head wasn't that massive. This alligator walked straight towards the large male which had been waiting in Elm Lake, and when she entered the water (almost walking onto the male), the male turned and swam off, and she followed.  Only afterwards did I realise that the male had raised its body out of the water at almost the same time that the female must have been walking towards the trail- - -from the other side, that is, from Pilant Lake. Remember, I'd thought that he was about to leave the water since he was showing more of his back and head.

June 30, 2002  It had been raining all weekend.  Not steadily, but enough to make things wet and the air close and sticky.  I hadn't been at the park very long, before it started raining on me. I was near the water station on Elm Lake Trail, and between that point and to about 75 yards past the first pier, I saw 8 alligators lying still in the water. For at least 15 minutes, all the alligators were unmoving, and facing the trail  (SEE RAINY MORNING, below) . Two smaller alligators were very close to the shore, and one of them is the rickubiscam shot for this week. After this brief period of stillness, during which the rain paused for a short time, the the some of the alligators began moving around. There were two larger alligators (probably males), near in the group. Two of the midsize alligators (about 6 feet long) started moving first. The alligators slightly tilted their heads as they swam, showing the their lips above the surface, but keeping the head almost horizontal. They also showed most of their upper back and tail as they swam at a leisurely pace. Eventually, all the alligators had scattered.
The rain finally stopped, at around 10:00.  I wandered the trails for a while, which were clear of visitors.
Sometime later, I, and a couple others, went to visit one of our new alligator nests. Alligators build nests during this month, and two have nested within easy sight of one of our most accessible trails, the Creekfield Trail. The first nest is about 10 minute's walk from the Visitor's Center, and close enough to be seen easily from the trail, yet far enough away from the trail for the mother to be undisturbed (and therefore not moved to vigorously defend her nest).  Although we are far enough away from her nest, the female is definitely keeping an eye on us.  See SHE'S WATCHING ME, below.  She is actually behind the nest (from the viewpoint of the trail). The nest is the pile of old grass and logs in front of her.  This female has put some pretty large pieces of wood into her nest.  If her nest remains unharmed (unfortunately, there are many raccoons in the area she chose),  she will guard her nest for the 60 days required to incubate her eggs. This is one of the largest females-if not the largest-that I've seen at the park. It's not possible to be 100 percent sure of an alligator's sex unless one does a physical examination, but nest-guarding behavior is not shown by male American Alligators.
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         RAINY MORNING          SHE'S WATCHING ME           MY VISITOR
July 14, 2002  FINALLY, we've gotten some rain. This is not said to trivialize the flooding that has happened in other parts of Texas. However, my area, and Brazos Bend State Park, is actually about 11 inches less than normal for rainfall at this time of year. The park needed rain.  This picture (MORNING VISITOR, above) shows a medium-sized (about 8 feet long) alligator that came ashore right in front of me at Elm Lake.  There was some activity this morning, with an unseen alligator doing two head slaps about 15 minutes apart (well, two headslaps, but possibly different gators)not far from me; and some movement back and forth across the lake by a few other alligators.  One crossed the trail about 75 yards from me, too far for a decent picture.  One of the large males made an appearance, but everything was pretty passive.  The following account may seem long, but I think it's interesting. It was to me, and this is my page, so there you are. I wanted to record this, anyway.
Wild rice is growing rapidly throughout the park, including the area in and around Elm Lake. I've been wondering about cutting some of it down, in order to give a clearer view of the lake.  One of the few advantages of the water levels dropping was that it would have been easier to reach out further and cut through the rice to the water's edge. I planned to try to cut some of the rice this weekend, using a scythe. Although it had rained, I figured that I'd try my original plan anyway, mostly to see how difficult this project would be.  Unfortunately the higher water level meant that I'd be working in deeper water than I'd planned.
The first spot I cleared was not too difficult, and was completed without incident.
I will take a moment to review some things I've mentioned here about alligator behavior.  A large part of alligator behavior occurs while the alligator is in the water. Two particular signals are especially noticeable. These are the "head slap" and the "tail swish".  The former involves the alligator raising its snout out of the water, and then rapidly dropping its lower jaw under the water, and slapping its upper jaw down, making a loud, low pop/splash noise, which is sometimes accompanied by a grunt, or stopped bellow. The latter is the rapid movement of the tail in the water, which makes loud splashing noises, and sometimes accompanied by rapid movement of the alligator (from the tail propulsion).   Both of these signals are loud, and relatively violent; and very noticeable, even by humans.  Both of these signals frequently cause alligators to respond; sometimes by leisurely investigation, sometimes by a more rapid movement towards the commotion; sometimes by challenging behavior.  I've read about all this in various places, and I've also observed some of it myself.
So, part of my plan for this rice project was to cut during the hot part of the day, after lunch, when the alligators have been scarce, that is,  hidden from view.  I assumed that most of them were near the islands, and otherwise hidden from the sun by staying in the water away from the trails. With the temperatures as warm as they had been, and with the receding water level, they probably were at optimum operating temperature for most of the day.  So, although I'd seen a few alligators in the morning, I didn't see any when I started cutting rice today, and didn't expect to. I was cutting near my second area, and as I worked, I noted that I was in deeper water than I wanted to be (up past my knees),  that visibility was poor (too much plant life covering the water),  and that as I swung the scythe, it was hitting the water with loud splashing noises. I decided to work quickly, and was going to swing just a few more times. I swung, and splashed, and suddenly something large splashed into the water across from me, about 20 yards away. I, in my hip-waders,  was out of the water before the last drops finished falling (I was being...discrete. Yeah, that's the ticket....).  I turned and looked back into the plants (this area has a thick growth of water lilies) and saw a bow wave pushing the plants aside as something moved rapidly off to my left. Yes, it was a pretty good-sized alligator, which stopped moving and looked at me.  Well, that was enough for me. I stopped working in that area and moved further down the trail. The next area I cut was without incident, but I worked within sight of one of the piers, where some visitors were standing. I figured anything moving towards me from their direction would get their attention, and I'd be alerted.  But, nothing happened.
Finally, I moved to the area where I saw the alligators earlier this morning. I did see one about 6 feet long about 30 yards from where I intended to work, but I drove the John Deere gator near it, and parked on the shore. I started working, and after each 3 swings or so, I'd look around the lake.  I could not avoid the loud splashing as I entered the deeper (about 3 feet deep) water.  I looked up once, and there was my "friend" (the one I'd parked the Gator near), or one the same size, about 20 feet away, and slowly approaching, while looking directly at me.  I've often noticed what an alligator looks like when its attention is on me.  Usually, I don't mind, and act with respect. When I am standing in the water (or near it, but immobilized by vegetation), it can be unnerving.  I decided that my plan was not feasible at this time, especially not working alone. So, I slowly left the water, and I walked over to the last pier, where some park visitors were. I'd already pointed out for them the alligator approaching me, and when I joined them on the pier, 3 more alligators appeared, and swam towards where I had been working.  They stopped further away than the first one ( about  50, 70, and 80 feet away) and faced where I had been. Two of them then swam by the pier slowly, but with attention on my area.   One came from behind the first one that had approached me and  after a few minutes of slow movement towards the first alligator,  actually chased it for a few minutes!  But, nothing more happened between them.  All of these alligators were close in size, between 6 and 8 feet long. The large male I'd seen there this morning did not appear.  I decided I was finished with cooking myself in my hip-waders, and returned to my car.  Of course, since I was actually working in and near the water with a large implement,  I didn't have my camera on me, and so couldn't record any of this visually.
Lessons from this experience:  Don't splash in water known to be inhabited by alligators. Therefore, do not SWIM in water inhabited by alligators.  Even "smaller" alligators are not intimidated by the fact that I'm human, upright, and close to their size once the proper stimuli (violent splashing) had been applied.  Even though the first alligator did seem to stop approaching when I stood back and faced it, showing that I was not an alligator, it stayed interested in the area, possibly looking for more stimulus (splashing). The other alligators didn't seem to care what else was in the area. They were still interested in where I had been, even after I'd stopped for some time.
July 20 (Saturday) I took a small group of people around the Creekfield Trail, for an informal hike. About 3/4 of the way through, I noticed a small (about 3 foot) alligator in the duckweed, in the shade of a tree. As I pointed out this one, another alligator the same size surfaced, and moved its head, as if it was eating something. While I moved another step forward, I noticed a dead animal on the bank, not far from the two alligators. These alligators were, by the way, very close to us on the trail, although they were in the water.  When I saw the dead animal--which appeared to be a small (about 4 inches long) rodent of some kind--I couldn't really tell what it was, since all I could really see was something dead covered in wet, grey fur. I was about to mention the alligator behavior of keeping, and sometimes hiding, larger prey items so they can decay enough to tear easily, when the second alligator started to move. This little one swam right towards us, walked up on land, still facing us, then stopped and rested briefly on the bank. I thought then that it was going to sun itself, since its belly was a bit distended.
However, it only paused a second or so, then got back up, and walked right over to the dead whatever-it-was. With a decisive movement of its head, it grabbed this carrion, then lifted it; turned, and strutted back into the water, where it began chewing on the dead animal. During all this, I was talking in my usual dry calm tones, saying "Isn't this GREAT? Look at that! This is SO COOL! The alligator might have killed it! Notice how its head is above the water. We rarely get to see this!" and other equally inane observations, also meanwhile forgetting that I WAS CARRYING A CAMERA.  I grabbed it out of its case, turned it on, and was able to snap two pictures before the alligator submerged, and swam off to feed in peace. One of these (see BREAKFAST OF REPTILES, below) shows the alligator in the duckweed with the rat (or young nutria, or whatever) in its mouth.  I usually am more informative in my lectures than this. But, it was such an uncommon event!
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       RAT-BREAKFAST OF REPTILES

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If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.
 

Here are a few links to more information on alligators. There's a LOT of it out there. The reason is, of course, that ALLIGATORS KICK ASS!

   Crocodilian.com

    Adam Britton's Pages 1

    Adam Britton's Pages 2

    Fish and Wildlife Page (Text)

    Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species

My other alligator pages:                                       OR,  FOR OTHER ANIMALS:
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1   Critters at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 2  Spiders at Brazos Bend State Park Page 1
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 3
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 4
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 5
Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 7

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