ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 2c:  SOCIAL SIGNALS AND BELLOWING 3
This page was born 12/27/2003.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 11/26/2012
Images and contents on this page copyright 2001, 2012  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. 

March 16, 2003 THE SUN--wasn't out much this morning. I got to the park about 8:00am, and I walked around wondering where all the alligators were.  As I set up the tripod and video camera, I looked and listened for any activity. I thought I heard the "gloop" of an American Bittern, and I found one where the sound came from. As I was filming him walking and preening (but NOT glooping. Grrrr! Of course not, he was close enough to hear.); some alligators started bellowing not far from me. The heck with the Bittern! (Just for a while. Bittern fans please refrain from flaming me.) I hurried down the trail until I found him. A HUGE male was bellowing (but about 50 yards away), and about 10 feet to the left and parallel to him, a smaller (probably female) alligator was bellowing with him. I'll be reviewing the video footage to see if this is audible at all. As I filmed, I ran out of tape, and so attempted a clip with the C-700. I was able to clean up the sound, and increase the volume on this clip. As time allows, I'll see if I can use any of the footage I shot with my camcorder. Until then, here (flv video, 565kb) is a clip of the male alligator in the RICKUBISCAM this week. Aside from these two, other alligators were seen bellowing at various spots throughout the park. Alligators were everywhere, and I saw more bitterns, but none tried to sing for me.  Later the sun came out and the day turned out to be one of those great ones. Well, actually any day where I can see and hear a large alligator bellow is a great one.
------
        BELLOW AND WATERDANCE                            BIG  ONE REARS UP                                    REARS UP AGAIN                           WATERDANCE AGAIN
I made digital video files from the footage I took with the camcorder. As I thought, the sound quality of the clips was lessened by the distance of the alligators from me. I cleaned up the audio tracks, and amplified them a little, so that the bellowing was clearer. Although the bellowing is loud, the background noise against the microphone (wind, etc.) makes it hard to hear. I apologize for the need for this adjustment of the original footage.  The four pictures above are frames from the video. After I took the first short movie, I moved behind him between his bouts of bellowing. I was trying to get a better position. I was lucky to be able to get this between the trees. The first two images ( WATERDANCE, REARS UP ) are from CLIP 1 (flv video 1198kb); and the second two images (UP AGAIN, DANCE AGAIN) are from CLIP 2 (flv video 485kb).  The bellow, as can be seen, is a cyclic series of movements and sounds.  Notice how both sets of pictures show the alligator in almost the same postures.

April 13, 2003 Today was one of those days where everything seemed to be moving around the park.  Snakes (particularly Broadbanded Water Snakes) were seen in many places. I saw six or seven myself!  But, this week I'm going to talk about alligators (some surprise, right?), and the behavior known as a "headslap".  I've been watching one large male for some time, mostly because he happens to be in the area I watch over. This is the same male that has had the scarring, and damage to his head and legs that I've shown here. He also seems to have one eye impaired.
This morning, he started at his usual early spot, and he stayed there until around 9:45. Then, he moved to the island area of Elm Lake, almost directly across from his "early spot".  This was about 50 yards from me.  As I watched him (with a video camera), he started posturing. That is, he started arching his tail and lifting his head. (see DO NOT MESS, below; or the clip here flv video 852kb).  Next, after some slow tail swishing, he did his headslap (see SLAP-HEAD UP, SLAP-HEAD DOWN, below, or the clip here flv video 820kb). (compare this with two other headslaps that I've shown on these pages, Alligator Page 5, Alligator Page 6). In all three, there was what seemed to be a short "grunt" just before the headslap. . (unfortunately, technical difficulties have severely degraded the sound quality of these new clips. I've cleaned them up the best I could. They were almost inaudible due to static for some reason.) Immediately after the headslap, another alligator began bellowing from the other side of the wild rice in front of "my" alligator.  This, in turn, caused "my" alligator to begin an aggressive bellowing posture (see TIME TO KICK below, or the clip here flv video 864kb). Then he bellowed once, and when he was answered (again from behind the rice), he began "tail swishing" but this was not the more leisurely "display" tail swish. This rapid tail movement propelled him forward, and he gave an answering bellow as he was moving.  Observe in the clip how belligerent he seems, as he pushes his way into the rice. I expected to hear some commotion, but there was no violence evident from within the rice.  After about 15 minutes, the "scarred one" leisurely swam back out, and that was the end of it.

------------
             DO NOT MESS WITH ME                                SLAP--HEAD UP                                  SLAP--HEAD DOWN                       TIME TO KICK SOME 'GATOR BUTT!
There is a VERY interesting and informative work; SOCIAL SIGNALS OF ADULT AMERICAN ALLIGATORS, by Garrick, Lang and Herzog (a bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History, issued May 25, 1978. )  Among the social signals listed is  headslapping.  The authors list a number of different possible situations for headslapping. There are also several additional signals (vocalizations; audible noises made with the body--such as bubbles; and movements) which can alter the intent or information conveyed. The only concept I'll mention at this time is this: "known dominant animals headslap more frequently than subdominants" (page 177). From what I've observed, I believe this male to be the dominant animal for this corner of the lake. By the way, it's a good possibility that the other two clips I've shown before were of the same alligator. In any case, they were a large male that was inside of this "territory".
Pretty complex behavior for what some people think are a "big dumb lizard".

April 19, 2003 Today, Earth Day was celebrated at the park. As part of my contribution to the effort, I was signed up to lead an "alligator hike" at 2:00 pm. I was able to get out to Elm Lake at about 11:30. As I was passing the last pier, I heard another headslap from near the same area that I filmed last weekend. I approached a pod of baby alligators (about 14 lined up on a log) and their mother in the water right at the trail intersection. Just as I got there, and was about six feet from the mother, it took a "bellowing" posture, and gave one short, low bellow.   Almost straight across was a male alligator (of pretty good size), and I thought it was the same male as last week. However, I checked on the lower side of the trail, near the downstream end of the culvert into Pilant Lake, and *there* was the "Old Warrior" (so it obviously wasn't him on the by the islands in Elm Lake)  As I was interpreting for the group of visitors in that area (between the babies and aggressive mother; the "showy" male; and the old warrior, there was a lot going on, hence the group of people) (also, DON'T get me started talking about alligators, heh, heh)  an alligator smaller than the protective female (by at least a 1.5 feet) approached her from the center of the water, moving straight in. It paused for a few minutes, then slowly continued in the same straight line. The female moved out to meet this alligator. She gave one low, bubbly "GROAK!", and the smaller alligator stopped immediately. Then, it turned and slowly moved off.  I've seen females make this sound at larger males that seemed to be trying to court them, and after the sound, the males would lose interest. I suspect that the smaller alligator was a male that was approaching the female with amorous intentions. I don't believe that the babies alligators on the log (and the few in the water) were that attractive as prey to bring the smaller alligator in on such a straight course.
After this little incident, I described the "headslap" and associated situation and posture, and then talked about bellowing. I described the bellowing posture , and as I did, I considered all the signaling that had been going on, and decided to check on the "Old Warrior" again, since I thought he might respond to these displays and challenges. I had just gotten in front of him when he attained the position I'd just described (see FULL LENGTH, below. This image is linked to a 640x 480 image), and began bellowing!  Was that cool, or WHAT?  Take my word for it.  It was!
Of course, Rick (yes, that's me)  was going to be too busy to carry his video camera around, so of course he didn't have it with him.The middle image below is cropped from the original photo I shot. (Alas!  My Olympus C-700 has developed problems, and has been sent in for repair. I hope I can get it fixed soon. Until then I have to use my backup camera. )

----
   TTHE OLD WARRIOR--FULL LENGTH                            CLOSE UP                                              WHAT'S UP?
Considering that for the last few weeks, all we've seen this alligator do is lay on the shore and look ill, I was very pleased to see him still active.

April 27, 2003 Today,  I was at the end of Elm Lake by 8:30 A.M.. When I got there, there was a large male down in Pilant Lake, surrounded--at distances between 12 to 30 feet--by five or six smaller alligators. As I watched for about 3 hours (while interpreting for people passing by) I saw this large male foraging among the weeds. I had the video camera trained on him most of the time. The male would occasionally lay very still, then without warning he'd lift his head and upper body about a foot from the water, and do a sideways diving grab. I never got to see what he'd catch. I couldn't leave my camera on all this time, and it seemed that as soon as I'd turn it off, he'd strike. Also, he'd occasionally do the "sideways prey herding" technique I've described before (see my Alligators at Brazos Bend State Park Page 6 ), and use his body to form a small area against the shore. Then, he'd do a leisurely prey-grabbing move. At about 9:30,one of the smaller alligators crossed the trail. (see GORGEOUS, below and flv video 1176 kb).  At about 12:00  he formed the "bellow position". I called some nearby visitors over and turned my camera towards him.
---
                   GORGEOUS!                                                  TOGETHER                                   I'M TOP REPTILE!      

 ----
            GOT SOME FLOSS?                                       YOU AVAILABLE? 

Then, without the customary bobbing, his back started to vibrate (I thought I could feel my body shake!) and then he gave one short bellow (see TOP REPTILE, above; or flv video 634 kb ) .  As you can see, I missed the very beginning of his bellow.  I like this clip because one can hear how impressed the park visitors were. A couple of them were sure it sounded like a Harley starting.  He got up on shore near what I assumed was a female (she was in the water when I'd first gotten there, but got out fairly soon.)(See TOGETHER above). He stayed there for about 15 or 20 minutes before reentering the water.   Finally, he moved a little further down, moved into the trees, and crossed the trail on his way to Elm Lake.  The picture above (FLOSS) shows him as he's just left the Elm Lake side of the trail (see the clip-- flv video 451 kb ).  From time to time until this crossing, I'd seen something stuck in the front of his mouth. It appeared to be a snake at one time...but I can't be sure. It seemed to have scales, and to be elongated; but it could have been a fish.  As he crossed the trail, I could see this hanging from the very front of his jaw (see GOT FLOSS? above).  When he got into Elm Lake, he moved slowly across to the islands. However, a smaller alligator (which I think is female--see YOU AVAILABLE?, above; or, watch the clip flv video 1470 kb  ) swam from nearby straight towards him.  She gently nuzzled him, but he didn't seem to respond. Or, perhaps, she just swam over and said "Hey...you've got something nasty caught between your teeth.", and he was too cool to acknowledge his embarrassment.  In any case, he was not responsive, and she swam off.  It appeared to me that she was half his size.
One further note:  The female I talked about last week attacked a 5-foot alligator that afternoon. She'd been very defensive all weekend. Today, she was not visible near her young at all, although they were still there (although I couldn't count 15).

May 04, 2003 Today,  there were alligators moving all over the park!  Today's RICKUBISCAM shows a large male (about 10 feet long) at the edge of Elm Lake.  This one was between two other ones (one about 6 feet long, the other about 9 feet long) that were completely out of the water. I only saw this one do one long gape...not the open-mouth heat regulating posture, but more like a long yawn. The image below (YAWN PART 2) shows his mouth gaping even wider!
----------------------------------------
                    YAWN PART 2                                                 NO MEANS NO!                                      MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK!                              LET'S DANCE, TOUGH GUY!
ADDED 5/06--  Earlier on May 4, I was down near pier 2 or 3 on Elm Lake. As I was walking, I heard an unmistakable sound. It was a sort of deep, gurgling croak. I've heard this sound at other times. At these times, an alligator, which I assumed to be female (in some cases, this alligator would be much smaller than the alligator it was speaking to) would make this noise when approached by a male (I assumed) that was attempting to mate with it.  Most times, the approaching alligator would stop almost immediately, and stop any pursuit or further closing movement.  Today, however, the amorous male didn't take no for an answer. The female continued her "croaking" as the male pursued. (see NO MEANS NO, above, or flv video clip1(1811 kb) and flv video clip2(1655 kb)).  I watched though my video camera as she turned and finally went into the grass.  That wasn't the end, though. If you watch the third video clip( flv video clip3(1718 kb) ; near the middle of the clip, note what happens in the right foreground.  A larger male makes an appearance (which I didn't see at first since I was looking through my video camera--I wish I knew where he came from), and sneaks up on the first pursuing male (see MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK, above).   Notice the sudden turbulence as the first pursuer realizes that HE is being pursued. What followed then was an interesting chase that went towards the higher numbered piers for about 5 minutes (see LET'S DANCE, above, or flv video clip4(2188 kb)). They were moving fast enough to require me to walk rapidly to get ahead of them.  Finally, the bigger male just slowed down and moved towards one of the islands, as the smaller one continued swimming a little further, though not as quickly.  The chase went past two of the piers.  I was once again impressed by how non-violent  most alligator interaction is.  Yes, there was implied threat, but everything proceeded at a certain pace, and no alligators were actually attacked.  This event has given me something to think about though. Did the female's calls alert the larger male? Is this the purpose of the call? That is, is this sound not directed that the pursuing male--to warn it off; but instead a call to the dominant male in the area? On further thought, it this seems unlikely. The female's calls might have just happened to alert the larger male. I could also be wrong in assuming that the chasing male is the dominant male in that part of the lake (that is, it might not be his territory, either). Interesting, isn't it?

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.

           Go back to my main alligator page, Alligators

           Go back to my home page, Welcome to rickubis.com
           Go back to the See the World page.