ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 2a:  SOCIAL SIGNALS AND BELLOWING 1
This page was born 12/27/2003.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 01/09/2014   
Images and contents on this page copyright 2001-2014  Richard M. Dashnau

Alligators, although they are ectothermic and also equipped with a small brain, exhibit a surprising diversity in their responses to their environment and to each other. They are for more complex than mere animated logs or 12-foot-long eating machines. This group of pages show some of what I've been able to see in just two years (starting September of 2001) at Brazos Bend State Park.

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-                                      ---  -----THE CHALLENGE
February 3, 2002   Today, there was alligator activity, but it seemed that mostly larger alligators (length 5 feet or more) were moving. I saw only one alligator under 5 feet long.  As I was walking down the Pilant Slough trail, which I entered at 11:00. I noticed a fair-sized alligator swimming leisurely upstream (towards Pilant Lake). I lost it around a bend as I moved down the trail. I encountered it again at the power line clearance. I arrived just in time to see him (it was probably too large to be a female) challenge a somewhat larger alligator that blocked his path. The larger alligator seemed not to respond, and only showed his head at the surface of the water. I saw no movement from the larger alligator at this time. . The smaller one then turned towards shore, climbed out of the water, and lied down to bask. Click here for a short video clip showing a portion of this interaction. (flv video, no sound, 2,282 kb)  The image above (the challenge) is a frame taken from this video.
I slowly moved across the clearance, and squatted down. The larger alligator moved towards the shore, and also left the water. It stopped about halfway out, and both alligators became very still. At this point, I slowly stood up; and the smaller alligator (at least 8 feet long, I'm guessing maybe 10 feet) didn't like this, and rushed into the water from the far shore, where it bobbed to the surface, and just stared at me. It remained near to the farther shore, about 20 yards away, and let his back rise above the surface. I needed to leave, anyway. Heh, heh. Of course, I'd turned off the video camera by then.

January 09, 2014  I've remastered the video to enlarge it from the archived file.  It is here (wmv 18mb) and here (mp4 17.6 mb)

March 24, 2002   I got to the park a little early. I wanted to try to hear some alligator bellowing. I've been reading  Social Signals of Adult American Alligators,  by Leslie Garrick, Jeffrey Lang, and Harold Herzog (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History NY, 1978). It has some interesting information. Bellowing time starts during March, and extends through June. From other facts in this source, I was able to make a reasonable guess about the places at the park where alligators might want to bellow. I was just coming out of a trail nicknamed "Spillway Trail", onto the Elm Lake trail, when I noticed this (tail arch, below).  Later, I paced off how far away this was from where I was standing, and it was 50 paces. These two were right next to the trail...about 3 feet away from it. (double trees, below).
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---------------     -----------TAIL ARCH-----                    ------- BY THE DOUBLE TREES-                 ----------A BELLOW-----    --
I stopped, since I didn't want to disturb whatever the alligators intended to do. The alligators seemed to be about the same size. I used the video camera to zoom in on their activity. Then, I began to take a few pictures with a digital still camera, and as I was looking through that, I saw first bellow (a bellow, above). I quickly grabbed my video camera again, and began filming.  I was able to film most of this, although I had to move once.  I was really happy about this, until I got home and tried to edit the video. The microphone on the camera isn't designed to pick up on something 50 yards away. However, I was able to edit the sound somewhat, and amplify it so that the bellowing can be heard.  You'll still have to turn up the sound to hear the bellowing in this clip.  Click here(flv video 1,830 kb) to see and hear a part of the clip. I noticed that some other alligators joined this one, making a "chorus".  After this alligator's "bout" (series of bellows), the one in front moved away, turning from the shore and swimming out past the other alligator. They had been sort of parallel to each other, with one a bit in front. Both alligators were in "head lift/tail arched" position at the beginning of the bout.  Both were facing the shore through the entire bout. The forward animal was hard to see from my position and I was unable to tell for sure if it was also bellowing. Females do bellow, sometimes.  I was very happy about seeing this on my first attempt.  I was able to film some other alligator interactions as well, but I've rambled enough for now.

April 14, 2002    I got to see a large alligator crossing the trail (and filmed it!) and also saw more bellowing. This time a large male was close to the trail. ( See Bellow Position, below).  I got a good clip with my video camera.  Click on 3 bellows (flv video 775 kb) to see some of it. I also took a small clip using my digital camera. This has sound. Click to see and hear another bellow. (flv video 493 kb) By the way, this clip, the "wide yawn" clip, the young alligator walking clip, and the bittern clip below were taken with this camera, an Olympus C-700. Most of the recent stills have been taken with this camera, also. Remember, I've degraded the image resolution so that they'll load faster on a wider range of internet connections. Also, I'm using a freeware version of realproducer to make the flv video clips, so the video isn't at the very best quality.
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         BELLOWING POSITION                        FIRST CROSSING---                            --------GAPE DISPLAY---                         ------SECOND CROSSING

April 23, 2002   Tuesday, April 23, I was able to take a day off work and get to the park fairly early. I was certainly glad that I did. I wanted to try to get more footage, pictures, whatever, of alligator social activity. I parked near the Elm Lake picnic area and walked to where I'd seen previous instances of bellowing.  When I reached the spot (about 8:30am) , a nature photographer that is working on various projects in the park was already there. He'd been observing a large male alligator, and what he assumed was a smaller (by comparison) female foraging near a culvert drainage. This was in Pilant Lake. Across the path, and behind us (since we were facing Pilant Lake), was a large alligator in Elm Lake, close to the edge of the water. Looking at him, I was sure that he intended to cross over to where we were watching. After a period of time, during which I'd glance back at the Elm Lake alligator,  I noticed a large alligator crossing the trail about 50 yards away.  Click here(flv video 436kb, or see FIRST CROSSING, above) to see him.  Not long after that, the big one in Elm Lake did a wide gaping display. (flv video 695kb, or see GAPE DISPLAY above.) This was not related to any thermoregulatory behavior that I could see, since it was still somewhat cool.
Not too long after this display, I was looking down at the Pilant Slough, when I turned around to see the large alligator's snout about 18 inches off the ground, and nearing the edge of the trail. He had left the water and had been walking towards us when I turned around. He paused. I alerted the photographer, Philippe Henry, and we moved aside to let him pass. While the alligator passed, I filmed this footage. (flv video 857 kb. or see SECOND CROSSING, above) The  photographer in the clip is not as close as he seems.  Do NOT EVER get this close to an alligator!
The alligator crossed and went down by the edge of the water. The larger alligator we'd been watching earlier had moved off, about 20 feet, some time earlier. Unknown to me, it had quietly come back. Evidently, its return was noted by the alligator we'd just seen cross the trail. We had just begun moving back to our previous filming positions when this alligator turned around and began climbing back out onto the trail, catching us somewhat off-guard. He paused at the edge of the trail, allowing me to take a quick snapshot, then crawled out, and then lay down right where we'd been standing. He rested there for a few minutes, and then continued across the path. I was able to get a short clip of him moving back into Elm Lake. (flv video, 517 kb, or see OOPS, HE CAME BACK!, below.)
One thing I find quite amazing is how quiet these alligators are while they are walking. This is a creature similar to a small dinosaur, sometimes around 12 feet long, and dragging its tail as it moves. Still, even on these granular paths, or while moving through undergrowth, these fascinating creatures are unnervingly silent.
 After a short rest, he swam out towards the corner of the lake, near where I'd taken previous bellowing footage. I followed the alligator, thinking that it may bellow, or that it might cross the path. It stopped near shore, and took one of the aggression display positions, which is close to the position an alligator takes before bellowing. However, perhaps because of being driven off (losing a minor conflict), instead of bellowing, he did a grunt/headslap.(flv video, 215 kb, or see BELLOW/HEADSLAP, below)  Please note that I was about 20 feet away, and you can see by the camera movement that even at that distance, the act was intimidating.

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                 OOPS, HE CAME BACK!                                     BELLOW/HEADSLAP                                 I DON'T KNOW. NICE HAT?                                     BIG BELLOW
Somewhere near this time, another alligator crossed the trail (flv video, 450 kb, or see I DON'T KNOW, NICE HAT?, above) about 50 yards away. Finally, for me, anyway, the finale for the day. I'd just started watching the large alligator down in Pilant Lake, when he began to take the bellow position, and immediately began to bellow. (flv video, 1,352 kb, BIG BELLOW, above). This clip shows what I'd consider a single bout, and then he followed with one other bout. During this time, the female near him also bellowed, as well as another one about 10 yards away. After all this, I had to move on to other things that day.

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.

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.

    Crocodilian.com

    Adam Britton's Pages 1

    Adam Britton's Pages 2

    Fish and Wildlife Page (Text)

    Fish and Wildlife Endangered Species

 Here are my "alligator behavior" pages:

SOCIAL INTERACTIONCONFLICT AND CANNIBALISMFEEDINGBABY ALLIGATORSALLIGATOR DENSALLIGATORS ON LANDFOSSIL CROCS
SIGNALS 1CONFLICT 1FEEDING 1BABIES 1DENS 1ON LAND 1FOSSILS 1
SIGNALS 2CONFLICT 2FEEDING 2BABIES 2ON LAND 2
SIGNALS 3CONFLICT 3FEEDING 3BABIES 3ON LAND 3
SIGNALS 4FEEDING 4BABIES 4ON LAND 4
SIGNALS 5FEEDING 5BABIES 5ON LAND 5
SIGNALS 6FEEDING 6BABIES 6ON LAND 6
SIGNALS 7
ON LAND 7
SIGNALS 8

And, this page shows alligators at the park, on land, near various landmarks at the park.

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