ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 6b: ON LAND; WALKING AND BASKING 2
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

Alligators doing the "high walk" are actually performing a number of feats quite unique for a reptile. Their ankle bones swivel to allow them to support their weight with their legs under their body. Also, I've read that the osteoderms (circular discs of bone) in an alligator's back may be part of a complex support system that, along with certain tendons and muscles, help keep the back supported vertically during high walking, and also stops excess horizontal bending and axial twisting; and that this is the main purpose these structures have remained for.

April 23, 2002   Tuesday, April 23, I was able to take a day off work and get to the park fairly early. I was certainly glad that I did. I wanted to try to get more footage, pictures, whatever, of alligator social activity. I parked near the Elm Lake picnic area and walked to where I'd seen previous instances of bellowing.  When I reached the spot (about 8:30am) , a nature photographer that is working on various projects in the park was already there. He'd been observing a large male alligator, and what he assumed was a smaller (by comparison) female foraging near a culvert drainage. This was in Pilant Lake. Across the path, and behind us (since we were facing Pilant Lake), was a large alligator in Elm Lake, close to the edge of the water. Looking at him, I was sure that he intended to cross over to where we were watching. After a period of time, during which I'd glance back at the Elm Lake alligator,  I noticed a large alligator crossing the trail about 50 yards away.  Click here(flv video 436kb, or see FIRST CROSSING, below) to see him.  Not long after that, the big one in Elm Lake did a wide gaping display. (flv video 695kb, or see GAPE DISPLAY below.) This was not related to any thermoregulatory behavior that I could see, since it was still somewhat cool.
Not too long after this display, I was looking down at the Pilant Slough, when I turned around to see the large alligator's snout about 18 inches off the ground, and nearing the edge of the trail. He had left the water and had been walking towards us when I turned around. He paused. I alerted the photographer, Philippe Henry, and we moved aside to let him pass. While the alligator passed, I filmed this footage. (flv video 857 kb. or see SECOND CROSSING, below) The  photographer in the clip is not as close as he seems.  Do NOT EVER get this close to an alligator!

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--------  ---FIRST CROSSING-------------           ------ GAPE DISPLAY-------          -------------SECOND CROSSING
The alligator crossed and went down by the edge of the water. The larger alligator we'd been watching earlier had moved off, about 20 feet, some time earlier. Unknown to me, it had quietly come back. Evidently, its return was noted by the alligator we'd just seen cross the trail. We had just begun moving back to our previous filming positions when this alligator turned around and began climbing back out onto the trail, catching us somewhat off-guard. He paused at the edge of the trail, allowing me to take a quick snapshot, then crawled out, and then lay down right where we'd been standing. He rested there for a few minutes, and then continued across the path. I was able to get a short clip of him moving back into Elm Lake. (flv video, 517 kb, or see OOPS, HE CAME BACK!, below.)
One thing I find quite amazing is how quiet these alligators are while they are walking. This is a creature similar to a small dinosaur, sometimes around 12 feet long, and dragging its tail as it moves. Still, even on these granular paths, or while moving through undergrowth, these fascinating creatures are unnervingly silent.

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                       OOPS, HE CAME BACK!---         -    -----I DON'T KNOW. NICE HAT?
Somewhere near this time, another alligator crossed the trail (flv video, 450 kb, or see I DON'T KNOW, NICE HAT?, above) about 50 yards away.

May 05, 2002  After seeing a copperhead near Hoot's Hollow trail, I continued on, encountering a rather fiesty 2 foot alligator (well, he just haughtily watched me pass, as he stayed near the trail). I got near my usual area, but did not see any activity immediately. I eventually found a small (about 5-foot) alligator near shore, and facing the trail. Previous experience has led me to believe that this alligator probably intended to cross the trail to Pilant Lake. I watched this one for a while, until I noticed a large male swimming from the opposite shore of Elm Lake and heading in my direction.  However, it turned and slowly swam into a small inlet on the opposite shore, where it stopped. I was slowly moving towards the piers on Elm lake when the large alligator made a loud "bellow/headslap" (growl/headslap) from the opposite shore. Although I heard it, I didn't get to see it.  However, after this, he started moving again, coming again to my side of the lake, and towards my position.  He stopped very close to the shore, and waited there. I thought he'd attempt to cross, but a group of visitors passed by, and he moved off a bit, to a position about 15 feet from shore, and behind some wild rice. In the meantime, I looked across the trail, and saw that the smaller alligator (7-8 foot female) had come back to the culvert opening and was sitting in the water.  This was almost directly across the trail from where the large male was.  As I was wondering what I should do next, the female in Pilant Lake began to bellow, and the large male bellowed back from behind the rice. This was a short bout, of about 4 bellows each.  After a few minutes, I was able to see the large male once again approaching the shore. I once again thought the he'd leave the water and cross, but then he turned away.
As I was waiting, some park visitors came by, and some of them noticed a pair of smaller (about 4 or 5 foot) alligators about 30 feet away. I moved towards them and as I did, one of these smaller alligators approached the shore. We watched happily as this one walked out of the water, and then rested with its head near the edge of the trail. After about 5 minutes, it got up and crossed the trail (flv video 1,156kb or SIX FOOTER WALKING,above), to the great enjoyment of the watching visitors (and myself!).  After this, I moved back towards the big male (he was at least 10 feet long), and not soon after I got into position he got up and left the water, moving far enough to get his tail completely out before he "plopped" down.(OUT OF THE LAKE, below, or flv video 322kb)  He stayed stretched out long enough for a number of people to pass. Then he got up and crossed the trail.(MOVING SLOW, below, or flv video 803kb)  After this, I moved back towards 40-Acre lake, where I'd left my car.

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-           -OUT OF THE LAKE---                  --MOVING SLOWLY---                           --     WHAT A CUTIE!                  --   THERE SHE GOES----------

June 02, 2002   This morning, I was on the trail by Elm Lake. I'd been watching two alligators that were close to shore. since I figured that they'd be crossing the trail soon (to enter Pilant Lake). They didn't.  However, I was talking to a family who were visiting the park, and talking about the two alligators. As I watched, the large male alligator I'd been watching raised it's back out of the water and neared shore. It had been totally submerged except for its head. I had the small group of people step back a little, so that he might exit the water (another couple of people happened to be passing by). We were watching the large male, when a young boy, about 4 or 5 years old, I guess, pointed BEHIND me, and said "LOOK AT THE ALLIGATOR!". I turned my head, and sure enough, there was one coming across the path. It stopped when it noticed us. (WHAT A CUTIE, above),  and rested for just a minute or so. Then it got up and crossed the trail. (THERE SHE GOES, above). I refer to it as "she" because it was smaller, and also because its head wasn't that massive. This alligator walked straight towards the large male which had been waiting in Elm Lake, and when she entered the water (almost walking onto the male), the male turned and swam off, and she followed.  Only afterwards did I realise that the male had raised its body out of the water at almost the same time that the female must have been walking towards the trail- - -from the other side, that is, from Pilant Lake. Remember, I'd thought that he was about to leave the water since he was showing more of his back and head.

February 23, 2003 Admit it. Y'all have missed the alligators showing up here. Well, the picture below (BIG ONE) should make everyone happy. (Ok. It makes me happy, and this is my page, so there it is.) I'm standing by a large (about 11-foot) alligator on the west side of Elm Lake. He stayed there all day, trying to warm himself. This alligator had many scars, probably souvenirs of old battles with other alligators. Here are a few close-ups of his head.
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             OLD WARRIOR                            OBLIQUE VIEW                             THAT'S BONE!                          CRACKED BONE?     


         FROM THE SIDE
 

That's right. Among his scars is this section of his lower jaw showing exposed bone. It appears healed (well, except for the exposed bone), and infection free. However, this old warrior seems to have other damage, since his eyes never fully opened in the three hours I was near him. He'll probably lose his territory soon to a stronger, younger alligator.
After spending some hours with this one, I was able to make my way to the long Pilant Slough bridge, where I'd heard an alligator had been seen. Well, he was there all right--lying on the bridge like some reptilian toll-keeper. See the pictures below. Here'sa short video clip of me walking up and stopping far from this alligator. (flv video 408kb)

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        WHAT IS YOUR QUEST?                     WHAT DO I DO NOW?                    THERE HE GOES!                                 BIG ONE
Notice how widely opened this one's eyes are, compared to the other alligator.  This alligator finally moved off the bridge as I watched. I thought I'd filmed a video clip, but alas, only got this one image. Watching his sleek, black length sliding leisurely off the bridge was a perfect end for the day.

March 23, 2003 I got out to the park early today, but didn't get to hear any alligator bellowing.  However, I did get to catch this big alligator (around and ten a half feet long) crossing one of the trails. If you'd like to see the video clip, click here. (flv video no sound 1,617kb).  This alligator is in no hurry! See TRAIL MEASURING, below.
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                                                      JUST MEASURING THE TRAIL
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.

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                     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).

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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