ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 6a: ON LAND; WALKING AND BASKING 1
This page was born 12/27/2003.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 7/14/2015
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2015 Richard M. Dashnau

Being able to see alligators in their preferred environment (the water) in a natural setting is a wonderful thing. But, having one walk in front of me less than ten feet away is stupendous!  Being near enough to see their quiet assessment of trail conditions--being close enough to see that spark of awareness in their black eyes--and then watching as this creature ponderously lifts itself and slowly makes its way; is something I could never take for granted.  It is a rare gift from the park, and I've been lucky enough to recieve it more than once.
Alligators lie on the shore to absorb heat. During this time, they are quite content to lie still. However, imagine that you walk out your front door and discover a large unknown dog sleeping in the sun. Most of us would know better than to approach such a dog too closely. If we approach cautiously, the dog will let us know when we've gotten close enough. Perhaps we might hear a growl, or notice a slight baring of teeth at first. That's a signal most of us understand, and it means that we have gotten close enough. If we ignore this, we may hear and see other signals (hackles raised, lots of teeth, raised head), with each signal representing an invisible "line" that we were asked not to cross. Depending on how quickly we move, these signals can escalate quickly, or slowly. The final step, of course, could be the dog's retreat; but it could be an attack of some kind, usually a bluff, but once teeth are unsheathed, accidents can happen.
Alligators are animals too, not some kind of monster. They will exhibit basically the same type of behavior (they don't growl, but they do hiss; and believe me, that will get your attention). They can also perform escalating series of sounds and movements, and they also can rush if provoked. Wild animals deserve respect, and that includes their "personal space". They are the ones who decide what distance is comfortable, and the space between them feeling safe and feeling threatened (and therefore requiring defense) could be just one step.
Alligators don't sweat, and they don't pant. Occasionally, however, they will open their mouth in a wide gape, and keep it that way for minutes...lots of minutes. I've read that this is to help regulate body temperature by using the tissues inside their mouth as additional surface area for heat exchange.  I've seen it most often not long before an alligator is going to enter the water.  The wide, unmoving gape is therefore not intended as a threatening gesture.

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                                                                     LET ME BASK!
OCTOBER 07, 2001 While making the rounds, we received word that a large alligator had crawled up onto the path, and was almost blocking it, forcing people to walk around it (LET ME BASK, above). Well, this is a hazardous situation all around. For one thing, park visitors are supposed to leave the alligators right-of-way at all times, and are supposed to stay at least 30 feet away from them. Evidently, some of the visitors were ignoring this rule (there are signs everywhere). We rode over in one of the John Deere "Gators" and sure enough, the creature shown in the picture was there (I'd estimate this to be around 10 feet long.) We were able to coax it into the water. That wasn't the most interesting part. No...that was the much larger alligator who was in the water about 20 feet away. That one had to be at least 12 feet long. It was HUGE! It leisurely turned and slowly swam out parallel to, and at the pace of the 10-footer. I'm sure I could have easily ridden on its back (if I'd had a sudden attack of foolishness). It dwarfed our gas-powered "Gator", that's for sure.
I later heard that both of these alligators had been on the path...forcing people to walk around them. What I don't understand is WHY these people haven't the sense to just go the other way.  I've got to figure out a way to carry a video camera with me all the time...or at least get a better digital camera.  What a sight!

OCTOBER 14, 2001 (Sunday)  After a rainy saturday, when a cold front came through, today was a huge improvement. The sun was briliant all day long. So, by the end of the day, the temperature was warm, but not uncomfortable. After noon, the alligators decided that they also thought it was a nice day. They enjoyed it so muchthat they decided to sunbathe...on the paths...where the people are. A few really big ones decided to come out.  The one in this  picture was...well you can see it. People on the path were wise enough to give them lots of room, but since one path was a loop, and there were large alligators at two different spots at points almost opposite from each other on the loop, people couldn't turn around and go the other way. I was forced to...ask some of the alligators to move. I asked them very politely; and, they were gracious enough to move.  The pictures below(PATH 1) AND (PATH 2)  show one of the other alligators. That's me in the picture with the big one (I'm the guy with the stick). I took path one and path 2 just before I persuaded, with extreme care, this big guy (about 10 feet long) to move. I estimate the one in the picture with me to be about 12 feet long.  CLICK HERE to see a bigger version of the picture with me.  REMEMBER, I WORK AT THE PARK. NEVER APPROACH THIS CLOSE TO AN ALLIGATOR!!!
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                 Me with the big one                                   PATH 1                                      PATH 2
                                                                                     From about 10 feet behind.                     From about 6 feet alongside.

OCTOBER 20, 2001 Sick of alligators yet? Well, I'm not, so I suppose you could make your own, alligator-free, webpage. This is  where one path is actually near the "end" of the water.  People coming from one direction are just entering the marshy area, and are not expecting to see anything interesting yet. People going in the other direction can see the end of the water, and aren't expecting to see much, either. This is at a bend in the trail. There, not just one, but two fair-sized alligators (about 8 feet long) were just lounging in the sun. I'd heard about this and had walked over to see if there was a problem. There really wasn't. The alligators were facing away from the path, and weren't really that close to it. I decided to ask the one nearest the path to move, anyway. Of course, a photo opportunity presented itself, and so here I am in this old  RICKUBISCAM shot.  I asked the one in the forground (his tail is on the path) to move. The three pictures below (move 1, move 2 and move 3) show his answer.  Click on the images to see them larger. Click here to see the "two gators and I" larger.
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                  Two 'gators and I                                               Move 1                                                     Move 2                                        Move 3
Move 1: I'm standing about 6 feet behind. Note his raised head, as he checks me out.
Move 2: He was sort of ignoring me, then suddenly he got up and started walking. Cool! I don't normally see them
get up and walk. It's kind of a shock to see this relatively inanimate "log" get up.
Move 3: He went into the water. He slid into the water...and then turned around and came right back out, walking towards me until he got all the way out of the water. Then he laid down again. Oh, well. At least he was further from the path.
Remember, NEVER APPROACH THIS CLOSE TO AN ALLIGATOR! I WORK AT THE PARK. YOU DON'T. IT'S ALSO AGAINST THE LAW TO MOLEST ANIMALS AND PLANTS IN A STATE PARK.

November 3, 2001  Well, the alligators were really moving around today! I was very happy. As I left the Visitor's Center, I headed down the Pilant Slough trail, where I saw this alligator swim by( Pilant Slough Gator). At the end of this trail, I started on the Elm Lake Trail, where I saw this alligator cruising by (Elm Lake Gator) . Not much later on, some park visitors told me about some alligators blocking the path at 40 acre lake. I went there and saw this (40 Acre Path).  Click on the following pictures to see them larger. Click the links below the pictures to see video clips of these scenes.
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             Pilant Slough Gator 476 kb                  Elm Lake Gator 489 kb                  40 Acre Path Gator 673 kb

January 27, 2002   As I've said, alligators were about.  I saw this interesting sight, and just had to include it here. Click on the thumbnail image below (egret)  to see a larger view.  The bird is a Great Egret, and I watched him tiptoe past this resting alligator. Click here to see a short video of this large bird walking softly past this great reptilian predator.(flv video, no sound, 735 kb)  It seemed to me that the egret does a "take" when it realizes what he's standing next to...and then continues walking, so as not to lose face by fleeing in terror.  Notice how softly it's walking, though.

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---------------------------------------EGRET------------------
February 21, 2002  I got a chance to get out to the park today. Since it was a weekday, it was quiet. The alligators were out. I was walking down 40 Acre lake trail, when I walked past a clearance in the wild rice growing along the shore.  There was a large alligator swimming straight towards my position!  This is not uncommon, as the spot is great for basking. Other picture I have on the alligators pages were taken at the same spot.  So, I moved a little way down the path, and waited with my video camera on. The alligator stopped just offshore, and then moved up on the bank. I was able to get him on video. See clip one for this activity. (flv video, no sound, 920kb) I walked past him a little, and then took a short clip of him basking on the shore. The  picture below (gatorface) is taken from that footage. See clip two for the edited footage. (flv video, no sound, 438kb)

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  ------------   -----Gatorface---                          ------------------DON'T EVER TRY THIS.------           ---
March 3, 2002   Back sometime in November of 2001 (I think) we built a new bridge over a section of the Pilant Slough trail at Brazos Bend Park. The main reason we built this bridge was because there was a path between two bodies of water that was being eroded away by a large alligator passing back and forth between them.   This alligator had worn down the sides of the path at this point until there was only about 3 feet of dry space to walk on. The bridge was put over this area-and dug out underneath it-to allow the path to remain wide, and to allow the alligator to pass under the path. Today, as I was walking the trail, I saw the footprints shown in the large shot (footprints with quarter).  There was also an impressive drag path, with a flattened area in the mud. The round object in the picture (to the left of the larger print) is a quarter. These were large footprints. Click here to see a larger version of the picture.  While returning later in the afternoon, I took another shot of these prints (click on the image to see it larger):

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-    ---Footrprints with quarter------      -----Footrprints again.-------        ---------cold turtle------------     ---------cold 'gator
One further note:  When I left the Visitor's  Center to go onto the trail at about 12:30, it was about 33 degrees outside, with a brisk wind.  It was cold!  In spite of the cold, I saw these two outside! (Cold Turtle, Cold 'Gator above). As we looked at each other, I imagined that we each had the same thought;  specifically: "What is that IDIOT doing out in this weather?"

March 17, 2002  Boy, where do I start? What a cool day! For now, I'll just describe the rickubiscam shot for today.  Another alligator (probably the same one) was up on the 40 acre lake trail. I was required to ask it to move. This time, a visitor was able to film some of this. Sometime later (I spent at least an hour staying near the alligator after it had moved the first time) I needed to move on, so I asked it to move again. I asked it to move. DO NOT EVER ATTEMPT TO DO THIS! I WORK AT THE PARK, AND HAVE STUDIED ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR. IT IS DANGEROUS, AND ALSO ILLEGAL, TO BOTHER ALLIGATORS  (OR ANY OTHER ANIMALS) AT A STATE OR NATIONAL PARK!  To see a video clip of  me near the alligator, click the two following links. Part 1.  (flv video 1,095 kb) Part 2 (flv video 1,171kb) Or, click the old rickubiscam shot, (DON'T EVER TRY THIS, ABOVE) just to see it larger.

March 31, 2002   If you want to go to Brazos Bend State Park, and you want to enjoy the peace and quiet of nature, then do not come on Easter Sunday.  That's all I can say about that without annoying someone.
We'd had a storm (with tornados within a mile or so!) Saturday, and a few trees needed to be moved from the trails.
I spent most of the day on the trails, making sure that noone molested our animals.  Making this interesting was a large number of small (around 2 feet long) alligators that were staying near the trail. I remained near one of these for a few hours, as it moved along, and fed on small fish. Then, it decided to come out onto the bank; right near me. So I took advantage of the photo opportunity (young hunter, below). I keep most images on my pages at 320 x 240 to allow faster page loading. I know I lose some clarity because of this. I mention this because the closeup shows very clearly the sense organs that an alligator has on its skin. These are called "ISOs" or "Integumentary Sense Organs" and are thought to aid the alligator in sensing pressure differences in the water;  for instance, when prey might swim within striking distance. These are located, in alligators, along the lower jaw, and in a small zone along the upper lip. Click on either of the images below (ISO1; ISO2) to see a better view. The ISOs are the tiny dots visible on the skin.

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-------- -YOUNG HUNTER------               --------ISO1---      -------------------ISO2
Eventually, as various groups of people arrived and departed, my little friend decided it was going to cross the trail, and just got up and walked--right past a small group of people scattered nearby. This was either very brave, or really foolish. Click here to see a small video clip (flv video, 525 kb) of this alligator crossing the trail. This also brings up another point. In a hatching of 60 alligators (a nest can have between 20 and 60 eggs), only one alligator will survive 3 years. Alligators are born at or near the bottom of the food chain. However, if they survive to adulthood, they can end up at the top. Payback time? You bet!

April 14, 2002   The morning alligator social interaction seemed to have been put off, possibly by the late morning fog at the park. However, alligators were certainly out basking. Today I  show an alligator "yawning". There has been some speculation about this behavior, but most sources I've found attribute it to a method of heat regulation using the linings of the jaws as a heat exchanger. Sometimes, though, the jaws will briefly be opened very wide, as opposed to the usual gaping position.  Click here for a small clip showing a wide yawn. (flv video, 354 kb) I asked another alligator to move off one of the trails also.
Last Thursday (April 11th) was also quite interesting. I got to see a large alligator crossing the trail (and filmed it!) click here to see the clip (flv video 395 kb), 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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----''GATOR TRUCKIN' ---------------------THE "YAWN"-M--------------BELLOWING POSITION
April 21, 2002   Saturday, April 20, we had an Earth Day event at the park, with lots of booths, and special demonstrations. Among them was an afternoon "alligator hike" which I led.  Of course,  that afternoon the alligators decided, for the most part, to be somewhere else besides where I was supposed to take the hike.  My apologies to those who took the hike, for the relative lack of alligators.
Today (April 21st), however, the alligators were busy all day.  Among them was this small (about 4-foot long) alligator shown in this week's rickubiscam. A few of us were standing on the small bridge near the observation tower, when this alligator started moving towards us. (movie clip one flv video 865kb) I'd heard that a few other alligators had passed under this bridge, and I figured that this small one would, also. The Pilant Slough was being drained (AGAIN!) and so the alligators were moving away from there. Anyway, this alligator moved up towards us, and then stopped about 20 feet away, and looked at us. (HUMANS UP THERE?, and HMMM. YEP., below.)

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             HUMANS UP THERE?-                 --- HMMM. YEP.----                       -  LET ME THINK  -                   - I'LL GO THIS WAYH         


         SMUG ALLIGATOR 

It paused for a few minutes, then turned around and moved back towards the water, but it stopped before it got there, and rested as only an alligator can. It sure seemed a bit petulant to me. (movie clip two, flv video 933 kb, LET ME THINK, above.)
However, after just a few more minutes, it got up and started walking towards the right, and towards the path. It walked up the bank and into the vegetation. (movie clip 3, flv video 393 kb, I'LL GO THIS WAY, above) I just knew that it still wanted to cross over to 40 Acre Lake. So, I followed it, by walking along the path. The alligator walked for about 40 feet or so parallel to the path.
After this bit of walking, it turned towards the path. It walked up, and when its head was clear of the grass, it paused for a minute or so, looking along the path. Then, it just crossed the path. (movie clip 4, flv video 446 kb, SMUG ALLIGATOR, above).
This seems to me like the alligator knew enough about its surroundings to choose a path that allowed it to avoid us, but also allowed it to get to its destination.  This didn't appear to be aimless wandering to me.  It was aware of our presence, and attempted to avoid us.
Why did I follow this one? I always like to see them walk. I was reasonably sure this one wanted to get to the lake.
As an aside,  clip number 4 was taken with the Olympus C-700 I've mentioned before, while the other 3 were taken with a SVHS video camera, and then digitized and reformatted later. I did this because I'd intended to post the path crossing right away, and I didn't want to have to go through the extra step of digitizing the footage.

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 RICKUBISCAM page.
           Go back to the See the World page.