Most people have seen programs on television showing crocodiles attacking large animals like deer and cattle. While this is amazing, and sometimes horrifying, those creatures are not alligators. The function of a crocodile's teeth is somewhat different than an alligator's. Alligators favor prey items that will fit inside their head. That is, if they can swallow it whole, then they will normally attack it. While I've heard witnesses tell of alligators taking deer in the park, the prey was very small fawns. Alligators have also been seen with large nutria. But, most of the time, they will eat things like small fish, frogs, and crayfish. Snakes and turtles are also pursued, with alligators seeming to be especially well-adapted for eating turtles. A recent study done in Texas examined the stomach contents of about 50 alligators (which were unharmed). Research showed that only one of these alligators had eaten a bird (which couldn't be identified, it might have already been carrion when taken), and the rest had stomach full of small fish and shellfish. I've seen 11-foot alligators going after prey that was no larger than their largest teeth (very small frogs and fish).
so we got a little cool weather today. No big deal. Not when compared
to the below-zero (F!) temperatures that have been reported in the Northeast
US this week! So, the temperature stayed under 45 degrees, or at least
it felt that way at Brazos Bend State Park. We'd gotten about 3 inches
of rain recently, so water was high, and it was flowing nicely over the
spillway between Pilant Lake and Pilant Slough. If the weather had been
a bit warmer (perhaps mid-sixties with lots of sun), alligators would have
been there, looking for fish being swept through the spillway. The alligators
didn't show, but quite a few of our wading birds did. Visitor attendance
at the park was slow, and it was a pleasure to be outside at the silent
park watching the wading birds fishing (a lot of them seemed to be eating
A little later, I had returned to the bridge from the direction of the Observation Tower. At the tower end, I noticed a large alligator in the water (the entire head was over 12 inches long). All that showed was the top of its head, and its nostrils (DON'T LIKE COLD, below). I shouted to some visitors who'd just passed if they had seen the alligator. A few minutes later, this alligator raised its snout about and inch out of the water, and made one snort. Then it submerged its head as shown, and a few bubbles came from its mouth. I was about 8 feet away. As I looked at this alligator through my binoculars (close-focus binoculars are very useful), I noticed something odd (see SOMETHING WRONG, below). For one thing, its eye seems to be damaged (see BAD EYE, below). I moved a little closer, and tried to get a look from the side (see SIDE OF HEAD). To me, it looks like a twig of some kind is broken off behind the eye, and about one-half inch in from the crease at the back of the eye (see THORN?, below, near the center of the picture). I couldn't see any better than this, so I can't tell what this is, or how this could have happened. The alligator's eye is definitely bad, though. The alligator never showed any more of itself while I was watching, and it finally slowly (very slowly) sank under the water.
This was one of only two alligators I saw today. The other one was that female whom I've seen every weekend since Dec. 28, on the East side of Elm Lake. Only her head was visible, near where I think she has a den. The yearling alligators were not visible.
I DON'T LIKE COLD! SOMETHING WRONG BAD EYE
SIDE OF HEAD THORN?
Finally, at the Spillway Bridge, I could see the three alligators. They
were on one side of the bridge, about 12 feet away. On the other side of
the bridge, though, there was another alligator directly below! Unfortunately,
this one is in pretty bad shape, and is probably the one that's been reported
around that area since last summer. I'm certain that this is the same alligator
I saw last week. This time, the entire body is visible, and he's
really emaciated (see SICK 'GATOR, below). The backbone is actually protruding,
and the flesh behind the head and around the front leg joints is sunken
(see, DORSAL DETAIL, below). I looked closer at the head, and saw that
the same eye damage I'd noticed last week was visible, but the other eye
is also gone. Close inspection through binoculars showed the left socket
to be filled with sunken, milky tissue (see SHRUNKEN HEAD, below). So,
sadly, this alligator is totally blind.
SICK 'GATOR DORSAL DETAIL SHRUNKEN HEAD
It's hard to say how this happened. I can't see any other scar tissue, so I don't think another alligator did this, although it's possible. I'd hate to think that he was purposely maimed by one of the park visitors. In any case, it's sad to see this large (at least 10 foot long) specimen in such a state. Although he's evidently blind, he can still hunt, after a fashion. For one thing, his senses of hearing and smell still work. He can also use the Integumentary Sense Organs on his jaws (see Alligators page 4 FEEDING ) to find food. He can also eat any carrion he can find. He almost certainly will never again eat enough to maintain a decent body mass, and will probably eventually starve to death. The park staff usually lets nature take its course with the animals in the park. The point is to allow the animals to be wild. As with certain other examples of the wheel of life, I don't have to like this, but there it is.
weather was bright, and cold (mid 30's to mid 40's). I didn't see much
when I was on the trails before lunchtime, but I heard, later in the afternoon,
about two interesting items. The first was a large alligator with a nutria
in its mouth on the island in Elm Lake across from the area between piers
2 and 3. I heard about this around 4 o'clock PM, but went out to
see anyway. And, it was there, although difficult to see. I got a few pictures,
but at that distance, and through brush, they didn't come out well. (see
HAIRY MOUTHFUL, below, and be sure to click on the image)
Still, it is a noteworthy event, since I heard (I'll have to see if I can find this in some literature somewhere) that alligators can't digest prey if their internal temperature drops below 70 degrees fahrenheit. Since we've had low temperatures (40 degrees +\- 5 degrees) for the last week or so, it stands to reason that the alligators are all below this temperature. If at all possible the park naturalists will see if the alligator actually eats the nutria, or leaves it. While I watched for about 15 minutes, the alligator didn't move at all, but just laid there with the mass of the nutria in its jaws. Mark, the volunteer who told me about this, said he'd first seen it at about 12:00 today, near the time I was in the VC giving my alligator program. So, the alligator had been in this situation for at least 4 hours by the time I saw it.
After looking at the alligator with its nutria, I went and looked for the log, which turned out to be less than 5 minutes' walk from one of our parking areas.
was certainly a NON-typical day at Brazos Bend State park. The Brazos River,
and Big Creek-which meet at the Southeast end of the park-were both swollen
with rainwater, and were much higher than usual. The Brazos River had breached
its banks, and Big Creek was backflowing into the park via Pilant Slough,
although it had already breached its banks in some areas. I was on the
trails in the morning, and it was a beautiful day.
ALLIGATOR WITH SKIN WITH SKIN CLOSER
However, the water slowly crept into the park. Here are some pictures I took as I walked the park, and also did a short riding patrol with Chuck and Sharon. I had scheduled two interpretive programs, or else I would have stayed out on the trails longer. The picture above shows an alligator that had come up onto the 40-Acre Lake trail (which hadn't flooded...yet) with a deerskin in its jaws (I said the alligator had a fur coat. I didn't say it was wearingit.) The skin had probably gotten washed into the water by the flooding, where the alligator had found it. The alligator moved back into the water and slowly swam off when I got closer.
Chuck Duplant and Sharon Hanzik had dropped me off at the VC/NC so I could do my programs. While I was inside doing my programs, we had another alligator eating turtle incident by Elm Lake. Chuck was there with his camera, though, and got some pictures, which he was kind enough to share with me. He's also given me permission to post them here. Mark Garbutt was also there, and he described what happened. They were near one of the Elm Lake benches (one that I'd cleared the rice in front of) and were watching a small alligator in Elm Lake, when one of the visitors exclamed something like "Holy Cow, look at that!" and a large alligator (about 9 ft.?) came from Pilant Lake, got up on the trail in front of everyone and-in about 45 minutes-crushed and swallowed a good-sized pond turtle. Below are images I made from a series of 4 that Chuck Duplant emailed us. Thanks Chuck, for letting me use them here! One of these days, I'll get to witness an event like this. I have another incident of this type (photos and videos taken by John Bradford) shown on my webpages here. I have read that part of the reason that alligators have evolved their tremendous jaw muscles and heavy, strong skulls is to take advantage of this food source. That is; large, slow-moving turtles. This may make some sense, since alligators haven't also evolved the meshed-tooth arrangement that the crocodiles have for efficiently tearing large carcasses apart. Also note that the entire turtle is swallowed. I mean that the shell fragments are not spat out, or picked through.
UP ON THE BANK ON THE BANK-- CLOSER HARD TO SWALLOW HARD TO SWALLOW-- CLOSER
FINALLY THE SHELL IS BREACHED EVERYTHING IS SWALLOWED AND DIGESTED
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.
Here are my "alligator behavior" pages:
|SOCIAL INTERACTION||CONFLICT AND CANNIBALISM||FEEDING||BABY ALLIGATORS||ALLIGATOR DENS||ALLIGATORS ON LAND||FOSSIL CROCS|
|SIGNALS 1||CONFLICT 1||FEEDING 1||BABIES 1||DENS 1||ON LAND 1||FOSSILS 1|
|SIGNALS 2||CONFLICT 2||FEEDING 2||BABIES 2||ON LAND 2|
|SIGNALS 3||CONFLICT 3||FEEDING 3||BABIES 3||ON LAND 3|
|SIGNALS 4||FEEDING 4||BABIES 4||ON LAND 4|
|SIGNALS 5||FEEDING 5||BABIES 5||ON LAND 5|
|SIGNALS 6||FEEDING 6||BABIES 6||ON LAND 6|
|SIGNALS 7||ON LAND 7|
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
Go back to the See the World page.