ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 2h:  SOCIAL SIGNALS AND BELLOWING 8
This page was born 06/14/2013.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update:  07/14/2015
Images and contents on this page copyright 2001 - 2015  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.

07/12/2015  Brazos Bend State Park reopened 4 days ago! Some of the park is still not accessible, but the park is open. I was happy to be on the trails. I heard more than
one chorus of alligator bellowing starting around 9am.  The usual mating season has passed (March-May). The June nesting was probably disrupted by the flooding of the park.
But, 2 alligator nests were built between the 2 flooding events. They were built very close to each other, on what was most-likely some of the only bare dry ground available.
I'm guessing that the bellowing could have been started by females, possibly claiming nesting sites (I've commented on this before--but haven't read about it anywhere. It seemed to me
that most of the choruses that started in June appeared to be started by female gators--but I'm only guessing because of the different, higher pitch of the calls.) OR--another guess:
The alligators have moved around the park, and even "new" gators could have entered the park during the few weeks of very high water. The bellowing alligators could be establishing
new territory.
I know that at least one male alligator is back in his normal "territory". This one is about 9 feet long, and is one of the few alligators that I can actually identify. I've got pictures of this
alligator elsewhere on my pages. The prominent "mark" is shown in the first 2 images below. There is a white protuberance on his back, centered in a spot that is missing some osteoderms.

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    Large Spillway Male swims East                      Close-up showing the white "bone".       "New" male from left. "Old" facing tree.          "New" male continues moving.

I followed the male (I will call this one "Old" male because he was there first) as he patrolled; leisurely moving East. Then he stopped, about 50 yards East of
the Spillway Bridge. While I watched him, I heard a head-slap from the direction of the bridge. (I found out soon after that the alligator that made the sound
was behind the bench just East of the Spillway Bridge. The "Old" 'gator immediately responded to the sound by quickly turning and swimming West. Then he slowed,
sped up again, then slowed and turned towards a bank. Meanwhile, the alligator that had done the head-slap ("New" alligator) began moving East (towards the "Old" 'gator).
                                                                                                                                                      
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  "New" male turns towards "Old".               "New" male moves slowly toward "Old"             "Old" male turns towards "New".             "Old" male keeps turning towards "New".

"New" 'gator was in obvious visual distance as it continued swimming East; and I thought that it might swim past "Old" 'gator. But, it turned towards "Old"
gator, and then slowly...slowly began inching towards it (Actually, alligators that make that decision to closely approach another will usuallydo that slow approach.)
In this type of interaction, if only one of the alligators is moving towards the other; then the stationary one will finally have to make a decision--usually before
the moving alligator touches it. Sometimes it submits slowly (by turning away; or submerging) or submits quickly (by a sudden quick retreat or dive) or it might
NOT submit and may turn and rush at the approaching 'gator.  But...usually it will do something before the approaching 'gator touches it.
                                                                                                                                      
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As "Old" male turns "New" briefly lifts tail.   "Old" and "New" watch eye - to - eye.         Staring contest continues.                                   "New" male submerged.

In this  situation, they began a staring contest.  The two alligators were very close in size.  There was no tail thrashing, no snout bubbles, and no tail-arching or
exposure of the entire back. I thought the "Old" alligator was going to submit as it very...very...VERY slowly seemed to submerge. Its nostrils went under and
I though it would continue--but then the nostrils surfaced again.  
Then I was surprised when the "New" alligator submerged.  I couldn't see that it moved anywhere and I waited another 5 minutes and he never resurfaced.
Then I had to leave, because I was signed up to work in the Nature Center.  So, I don't know if anything else happened between these two alligators.
I thought this was a good example of an interaction between alligators. I have seen many interactions in 12+ years ; and most of them start out with the same cautious approach. 
If my first notice of interaction between gators seems like it was aggressive, I believe it's because I haven't seen the beginning; but have come in on a later stage.
I've have made this point before, and I use it during my programs:  Alligators have been around a long time, and they have relatively small brains.  But even
Alligators know enough to treat alligators with respect and to give them space.  In just about any "bad " human/alligator situation the fault is with the species that
can read--that is read warning signs, or read state laws regarding Alligators. 
Like I say on my t-shirt "ALLIGATORS CAN'T READ--BUT THEY DON'T HAVE TO."  ----------
                     

April 28, 2013  On Saturday, 4/27 there was rain at Brazos Bend State Park. David said that a very large alligator tried to cross the grass near the Nature Center from Pilant Slough, probably on the way to Creekfield Lake. But, a number of visitors were taking pictures, etc., so the alligator turned around. Later that evening, David saw the alligator on the road, moving in the same direction, and he made sure it crossed safely.  The distance from Pilant Slough to Creekfield Lake is about 275 yards. Alligators occassionally go to and from Creekfield lake. Distances are measured using the google maps distance calculation tool.  Creekfield Lake is about 295 yards long and about 95 yards wide. Its long axis is roughly North - South.  The map images are from Google Maps.


   

When I heard the story the next day, 4/28, I went to Creekfield lake at about 11am to see if the big alligator was there. It was. It was in the water not far from the long pier. I went on to the pier to watch it for a while. I noticed a smaller alligator in the water about 10 yards in front of it. Both alligators were just resting in the water.  The smaller alligator eventually turned and swam towards the far shore of the lake, towards where another alligator was already basking about 100 yards away.  From the platform of the long pier, there is a bird box South, about 46 yards.  Another box is beyond that one, 113 yards South of the pier. There is a box Southwest of the pier,  108 yards.  All  of the "widescreen" images are framegrabs from the video that I filmed of what transpired. The edited video is here.

 _
I was relaxing, taking pictures of the large alligator, when I heard a loud splash across the lake, in the direction that the other alligator had been swimming.  When I looked, the alligator on the bank had its mouth open, and was doing a "slow thrash" with its tail. It was still on out of the water--and I assumed it was the same alligator that had been on the bank before.  Another alligator was in the water in front of it, probably the one that swam across..  There was also a large alligator on a small island out past the second South bird box--about 113 yards away.
The alligator moved off the bank, and swam towards the alligator in the water. That alligator turned, and swam straight away from it. The pursuit continued, slowly increasing in speed until both alligators produced a conspicious wake.





The pursued alligator swam straight, and passed on my side of the near bird box. It moved into shallow water. The chase gator stayed a bit further out, then slowly moved in.  The pursued gator finally "breached" out into the shallow water, and moved out of sight to me (behind a tree). The pursuing alligator then started chasing a much smaller one which I hadn't noticed before. The small alligator moved into the deeper water, and eventually submerged and swam away. 



The pursuing alligator then moved towards the BIG alligator, which had been lying quietly during all of the other activity--which had been at least 50 yards away.  The alligator slowed down, and then eventually moved closer to the big gator. It moved until its snout was almost touching the big alligator's ear. Then it did some "champing"--clamping its jaws together under the water.


Then it raised its head and bellowed, right near the big alligator's head. After a few bellows, the big alligator started bellowing, and then there was a good bout of bellowing. During the bout with the two close alligators the alligator out past the bird box started bellowing, too.  After a couple bouts of bellowing, they stopped, and the "instigator" alligator swam back to the far bank. 




 
I was very excited to capture this footage. The conditions were almost perfect. The wind was relatively still, and although people were talking, they were in the background. Note the difference in volume when the alligators are turned towards me! There are a few good online sources that describe alligator social signals.  Between them both, most of the actions shown here are described. One of the earliest detailed studies is still available online: Social Signals of Adult American Alligators,  by Leslie Garrick, Jeffrey Lang, and Harold Herzog (Bulletin of the American Museum of Natural History NY, 1978).  And, there are: Courtship Behavior of American Alligators, by Kent A. Vliet, Ph. D.--in pages 383-408 of Crocodilian Biology and Evolution edited by Gordon C. Grigg, Frank Seebacher, and Craig E. Franklin; Pub. Feb 2001. ; Social Displays of the American Alligator by Kent A. Vliet in Amer. Zool., 29:1019-1031 (1989).  Search for those titles--a couple of them are out there. When I link to them...they move, so I don't link to outside files any more.
The edited video of these events is here. I have many other examples of alligator social interaction (agonistic displays) on my alligator "social signals" pages.; starting with this one.

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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