ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 5b: BABY ALLIGATORS--part 2
This page was born 9/08/2002.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 7/14/2015
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2015 Richard M. Dashnau


August 17, 2003  Good news! Another alligator nest was found in the park! While this still isn't as many as we'd like, it's better than just ONE nest. Also, one of the volunteers went to scout out a good place to set a photo blind to catch the hatching of the first nest (the one we found last week). When he got there, he saw the nest had been broken into, and there were eggshells scattered about.  Fearing the worst, he and one of the Park Naturalists  went to investigate the damage--where they were met by a protective female who had 17 baby alligators near her.  Yes! The eggs had hatched! Generally alligator eggs don't hatch until the end of August in our park, so these alligators are a bit early.  This all happened yesterday (Saturday). Today, I got to accompany Park Naturalist David out to the nest to see the babies, and perhaps find out if there were any eggs still in the nest.   The picture above (KEEPING AN EYE ON THE KIDS) shows the mother in front of some of the babies (640 X 480 HERE). The babies are up on the bank behind her. We were across this small body of water, so she didn't perceive us as a threat, although she did turn to get a better look at us (see WHAT'RE YOU UP TO?, below).  Trying to count baby alligators from 50 feet away is difficult when they are on a mudbank and in dappled sunlight. Don't believe me? Take a look at (COUNT 'EM, below). Then, we went back around and tried to approach the nest from her blind side (keeping the nest between us and her). However, when David got close, she lunged out of the water, and ran the 15 feet or so from the water to her nest, where she stopped and watched us (see MY NEST, below). Whether this was in defense of her nest, or of her already-hatched babies was unclear. So, we left.  Remember, female alligators will vigorously protect a nest. DO NOT EVER APPROACH AN ALLIGATOR NEST! First, it is dangerous; second, without authorization, it's illegal.
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WHAT'RE YOU UP TO?                                            MY NEST, YOUR PAIN!                                             CAN YOU COUNT 'EM?
                                                                                 (640 X 480 HERE) One other thing happened.  Somehow, over the last week, I turned 47 years old.  Oh, well. The babies tried to make my birthday.

August 07, 2003  Finally, we got to do a survey of alligator nests at the park. There were only two of us (Park Naturalist David Heinicke and I), and we had difficulties getting to where we wanted to (LOTS of weeds, and the ARGO couldn't get to the islands as we'd planned).  No nest count was done last year, although at least 5 nests were seen and reported. The nests reported last year were all visible from areas that most visitors normally travel. No such nests were seen this year. We managed to inspect quit a few islands, though. This was fairly difficult, considering we were wearing rubber waders in 100-plus-degree heat, and had to to a lot of walking on land through underbrush (in the waders! Whew! HOT!). That is, once we got to the islands in the first place. The heat also served to keep the alligators not only IN the water, but under it, or at least in the shade. So, while wading from island to island, we didn't see any, although we heard two or three splash somewhere nearby, unseen. In all the area we searched, we only found ONE nest. This is very unfortunate, and is probably due to the low amount of rain the park has received this year(Claudette didn't give the park much rain); and the drainage of Pilant Slough last spring. The picture below (DON'T EVEN)  shows the female guarding the nest we found.  The red in her eye is from my camera flash. Even in daylight, those eyes will reflect light!  While David cautiously approached the nest closely enough to get a GPS reading, I stayed further back, and watched the area between the nest and the water's edge.  It didn't take long for the female to appear, and she was at least 7 feet long. She approached the shore, and then slid up out of the water, very quietly. Once she spotted David, (who was at least 10 feet from the nest on the landward side-that is on the opposite side from the female.), she rushed to the edge of her mound, with her mouth gaping. We both backed off, and she advanced no further; but just kept an eye on us.  Seeing that we were not bothering her nest, she closed her mouth, but still watched us carefully. We left. The picture below (FEMALE) shows the nest with the female. Look how large she made the mound!
Remember, female alligators will vigorously protect a nest. DO NOT EVER APPROACH AN ALLIGATOR NEST! First, it is dangerous; second, without authorization, it's illegal.

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                 DON'T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT                                                FEMALE TO LEFT OF NEST                                                         KEEPING AN EYE ON THE KIDS
                                                                                                                     (640 X 480 HERE)
March 02, 2003 Ok, so today was overcast, and kind of cool. I helped clear another Elm Lake island of plants to allow alligators to bask, and be seen while they do it.  The day just seemed like it would be one of those "slow animal life days"--uncomfortably cool (to me), grey, and windy.  I decided, around 3 o'clock, to head out and see if the nearby mother alligator was out. Well, as the picture below (KIDS AND A SMILE) shows, she was!  Some of the young ones were also visible, which was surprising. Yes, there are four alligators in the picture. Two on her head, one in the right background, and one visible directly between the heads of the two on the mother's head. By the way, the two on her head are "adopted",  that is, they aren't hatched from her eggs. Below (MOM AGAIN)  is another picture of the mother with her young. She'd moved some, and one of the babies on her head has moved to inside the curve of her tail. It was quite cool, and I wonder if the young ones climb on the mother in this weather because she has been gathering heat. She may be warmer than the water and the surrounding air. Something else to find out about, I guess.
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                               KIDS AND A SMILE                                   MOM AGAIN

November  15, 2002 For the picture below (TOUGH MOM)I'm going back a few weeks. Ever since the high water, some animals in the park have had to move around a bit.  One of them was a female alligator that had made a nest on one of the islands near the spillway trail. This "family" was visible from time to time near this nest on the shore of one of these islands. These islands were submerged, and the female and babies (the eggs hatched successfully!) were forced to come over near the trail. The female alligator will defend the nest-and after that, the babies-quite aggressively, for about 2 years. So, this female was forced to allow her babies up on the shore near the trail. She was always very close, and if anyone approached to closely to her babies, she'd hiss, and otherwise make it known that she wasn't pleased. This was noted, and the yellow "CAUTION" tape was place near the area to warn people of the situation. On this day (Nov. 10), I counted 15 young alligators scattered around. I thought this picture summed up the situation well. It's hard to see at this 320 x 240 resolution, but one of the babies is on the mother's back. Click here to see a larger image.
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                                    WHERE ARE THESE...REINDEER?                                                                             TOUGH MOM

September 08, 2002 The baby alligators that were released a week ago seem to be doing fine, although I only counted 7 of the new hatchlings (we'd released 8), and both of the yearlings (we'd released two). The youngsters were out foraging, and swimming around. The mother wasn't anywhere visible, but I assume she was under the boardwalk. (See 2 BIG AND ONE SMALL, GATOR PILE, and LITTLE CHOMPER, below.) Click on the links to see flv video clips of the little alligators.
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                         2 BIG AND ONE SMALL                                    GATOR PILE                                                     LITTLE CHOMPER
                                                                     GATORPILE VIDEO 443KB           LITTLE CHOMPER VIDEO 400KB

September 01, 2002 The image below (SMILE!) shows me taking a picture of a snake that I found on Elm Lake trail. The snake might be a yellow belly water snake.  I'm taking this picture (and holding the snake) because it appeared to be injured in the head. The snake was very thin, and appeared not to have eaten for some time. A pair of park visitors took this picture with their camera and then were nice enough to email it to me.  The image below left (HURT SNAKE) shows what I was taking a picture of while my picture was being taken.  I don't like to bother that animals at Brazos Bend State Park unless it's absolutely necessary.  This snake appeared on the trail as I was hurrying back to the Visitor's Center. Before I saw the snake, though, and after I'd been photographing spiders, I saw a LARGE alligator on the trail. (See SPEED BUMP W/TEETH, below.) As I approached him, he got up and sauntered off the trail.( See THERE HE GOES, below)
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                             SMILE!                                                                HURT SNAKE                       SPEED BUMP WITH TEETH                   THERE HE GOES                        UH,OH! THE BIG MOM!
Around 10:00 am,  that Sunday, we gathered together to release the week-and-a-half old alligator hatchlings. The plan was to  lure one of the mother alligators in Creekfield lake (one of those that had nested there), and then release the babies to her.
First, we tried the larger nest, the one I've pictured before. The female who'd made this nest was very large, around 8 feet long. We carefully approached the nest, but the female hadn't been seen near it for at least a week. I assumed/hoped that the eggs had hatched, and she had left with the young. David began playing a recording of young alligator chirping. There was no response. So, since there were so many of us to look out for an angry mother, David decided to inspect the nest. He found that it was filled with eggs. He took one out, and noticed some odor. When he broke this egg open, nothing but egg contents (undeveloped, that is) came out. It was infertile. He took out another and opened it.  Inside was a fully formed baby...dead. What a great disappointment. The young one looked like it was within days of hatching. The nest had apparently been flooded during the rainstorm that made the removal of the other eggs necessary. However, this one had probably flooded overnight, and although briefly, it was long enough to suffocate the eggs. There was nothing that could have been done any differently. The eggs were thought to be safe, and the mother was large, and had been aggressively guarding her nest. We were all saddened by this discovery.
However, we had better business to attend to...the live babies. So, we went to the long pier, and the nest where the eggs had come from. We spread out along the boardwalk and the deck at the end (well I was there). David again played the chirping. I think we waited for about 10 minutes, and then I saw the mother approach from the far end of the pier. She came straight in without hesitation. I sounded the alert, and then we all watched for her. The last place David needed to be was near the nest, and the babies, when the mother got close.  So, we watched. John saw her next, as she poked her nose out from under the pier. She'd traveled under the boardwalk until she was close to the nest.  This was still about 20 feet away.
Then, she started moving towards the nest. David released the babies quickly and gently, and moved away. The female slowly approached and we watched--I think we were all worried--as the mother got close to the babies. Would she eat them? Turn and leave? Here are 3 video clips that show what happened. Click the links below the three pictures (nest 2a, 2b, 2c) to see the clips.

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                            NEST 2A (608KB)                                                            NEST 2B (854KB)                                                        NEST 2C (683KB)                                       THE MOTHER AND BABIES(640 X 480)
                                                                                                               MPEG   NEST 2C (2492KB)  ONLY THE LAST CLIP IS ALSO IN MPEG FORMAT.

She did neither. She just started mothering, alligator-style. She seemed to move around, to allow the young to see her.  Some of the babies were on the far side of the nest from her, and although it was very low, she would not climb up onto it. She could hear the babies on the other side (by the way, once her presence was known, all the babies began chirping. What a unique sound! It sounded like a little battle taking place with ray guns.)  Also blocking her way were two logs, which she also would not climb over. She finally was able to go under them, and look at the babies over there. Generally, when the young alligators saw her, they would move towards her.  Then, she began pushing the logs away, and generally clearing a space around the nest. She stationed herself in this cleared area, and submerged herself, leaving just her head exposed.  We watched for about 30 minutes. I was happy with the results. The young were reunited with their mother! But...the drama had yet another act to follow.
Around 4:00pm, I decided to go by one last time, to check on the mother and the babies. When I got there, I saw that Glen had set up a spotting scope and tripod on the boardwalk for inspection of the nest. While I was there, he packed up, and left.  For some reason, a large number of park visitors started appearing on the Creekfield trail. There were about 8 people on the boardwalk, and I was talking about alligators (I bet that's a surprise to some of you! Or not. Ha ha ha), when one of the visitors exclaimed something like " Holy cow! There's a huge alligator on the trail! "  I quickly moved to the land ward end of the boardwalk, and yes, there was a large alligator there! (See, UH, OH, THE BIG MOM above)  Of course, all the visitors wanted to see it, but this alligator was right next to the only way off the boardwalk. I asked them to stop moving, and I moved towards the alligator...and she hissed.  "Ok." I said, " Everyone move back and give it some room." I guessed that this was the large female whose eggs we'd discovered were dead that morning.  Why she came from uphill, towards the observatory, was a mystery to all of us.  I supposed that she was responding to the chirps from the baby alligators, though. She got up and moved under the boardwalk, then came out the other side and took a few steps towards the nest and babies. The two females were at least 20 feet apart, and separated by grass and vegetation. But, I still believe they were aware of each other. The newcomer turned and went back under the boardwalk. Sometime during this, Glen returned with the spotting scope, and set it back up. More park visitors appeared. While we were answering questions, the large female (if that's who she was) gave one loud, short growl. Then, a little later, she could be seen skulking around at the end of the pier, under the wide deck. Her nose was pointed directly at the nest and other female. I left then, to go home.
For those who are wondering, I returned the following Monday, and found the mother and her babies peacefully lying around. I saw no sign of the larger alligator.
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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.

   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

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