ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 6e: ON LAND; WALKING AND BASKING 5
This page was born 10/20/2006.  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 although amphibious (not AMPHIBIANS) are in the water most of the time when they are active. Therefore it is worthy of note when they are on land, especially when they are doing more than just absorbing solar energy. Here is yet another page of terrestrial alligator antics.

April 14, 2005  I've been somewhat disappointed this spring. I haven't seen much alligator activity so far, and I haven't been near any alligators bellowing so far. For the last few years, I'd had a number of encounters before this time of year (usually I'd hear bellowing weeks before Daylight Saving Time).  I've still seen a number of interesting things, but have been pretty busy with other projects. Last Tuesday, April 12th, I had time to visit the park again. Still no bellowing, but I saw some alligator activity. I've got a couple sequences that seem to show the females approaching the much larger male alligators. I saw 3 different cases of this--two of which involved two of the smaller alligators (about 6-7 feet long) approaching the same large (about 10 feet long) male within 10 minutes of one another. I'll note more of this later.
The image below (YAWNING IN THE SUN) shows two alligators showing the thermal gape. This is behavior that becomes apparent usually after an alligator has been in the sun for a period of time--at least that's what I've observed.
The larger alligator had just come ashore, though, about 15 minutes before he started gaping. There was no other movement or sound accompanying the gape.

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About 15 minutes before *this*, I was passing the 7th Elm Lake pier when I noticed a large alligator (this large one) swimming straight for a spot under a Willow tree. I thought it intended to come ashore, and possibly cross.
I walked to a decent vantage point, but the alligator stopped about 4 feet from the bank. It stopped moving, and I watched for a few minutes. It backed away from the bank slightly (I was at least 20 feet away.) so I moved towards Pilant Lake, where I'd noticed some Garfish at the surface. I had my camera down by my waist when the large alligator suddenly raised his snout--indicating perhaps a bellow. I just had time to bring my viewfinder to my face when he did a single grunt/headslap.  Then he backed away from the bank, and swam straight to the bank where a smaller alligator (the one in the picture) was already basking. Then, without much pause, he climbed up near the other alligator, basked a while, and then started gaping.
So, it was an excellent day after all. The weather was great, I watched alligators in a quiet park; a Broadbanded Water Snake crossed the trail...almost going between my feet!

June 4, 2006--The park has been going through a long dry spell. As water levels have been receding, the alligator have been moving around more. I watched this large alligator moving down the shallow remnants of Pilant Slough, near the Spillway Bridge. (the large images below are animated gifs. refresh the page if they aren't moving.)
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                                                                                                MOVING ALONG
Without any previous indication, it assumed the bellowing position,  and issued a single short bellow.
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                                                                                           THE BELLOW
Then it turned, moved to the bank, and walked up to the Spillway Trail (near where I was standing). It stopped at the edge of the trail to rest.
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                                                                               WALKING UP TO THE TRAIL

After about 5 minutes, it gaped.-----------
I don't think this was a heat-regulation gape. Sometimes an alligator will gape like this (without hissing or any other signal) before moving over land, and I believe gape is used in these situations as a warning, or for intimidation. Perhaps a sign that any watchers should "keep their distance". Sometimes this gape hyper-extends the jaw opening, but at other times it does not. The mouth is opened and closed slowly.  After the jaws closed, the alligator stood up and crossed the trail.
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                                                                                               CROSSING THE TRAIL
After it crossed, it entered the mud flats that remained at that edge of Pilant Lake. I knew the alligator was destined for disappointment (if they can feel
disappointment). For those familiar with the park, this happened at the West end of the Spillway Bridge, just past the bench near the bridge.

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                                                                    INTO THE MUD                                                                WHY DID I DO THIS?
A number of people have expressed concern over the alligators, wondering where they would go if the lakes dried up. This concern always gladdens me, since it show me they care about the life in the park. . However, these conditions have only lasted for a few months. Although we haven't gotten the amount of water we normally do for about a year, we have been getting some rain. The alligators have been around for MILLIONS of years. The only thing that came close to wiping them out was not a natural force, but humans. There's a very good chance they'll do okay until our rains come back.

08/20/2006--They've decided that 40 Acre Lake is full enough for now. The pump (see below) has been moved to Elm Lake. Now, in the quiet filled lake, things are returning to a "normal" state. Look at the lake from the base of the Observation Tower!
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                                                           40 ACRE LAKE 08/20/2006 FROM OBSERVATION TOWER
I arrived at the park around 8:30am, and I was walking towards the Observation Tower and admiring the lake. I passed an 8 foot alligator on the bank next to the trail. With the water level at a good level, the water's edge is about 6 feet from the trail. I was about 100 yards from the Observation Tower when I saw a large alligator crossing the trail.  The first image below (HIGH WALKING) shows a shot when it's centered on the trail.  The second image (STILL HIGH WALKING) shows the end of the crossing (taken with 17x zoom).
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                          HIGH WALKING                                                    STILL HIGH WALKING                                                      SUN BATHING 

 
                ALLIGATORS CATCHING...RAYS                                 IS THE COAST CLEAR?
I got to the tower, and watched the alligators for a while. While I did, another alligator got up and basked (SUN BATHING, above); and not long after, another one  joined it! (ALLIGATORS CATCHING RAYS, above) While I waited to see if the bigger one would cross (I love seeing the high walk); the smaller one walked down the trail towards me, then spread out in the center (IS THE COAST CLEAR?, above). Eventually, both alligators left the trail.
I eventually walked around the lake. In the shaded areas on the East side of the lake, many alligators were near the shore. Some came up to bask, some were hunting at the water's edge. There's a bench near the trail turning on the Southeast edge of the lake. Alligators seem to like to bask there, and I saw this one while still some distance away. They are shy there, and usually retreat into the water before I can get too close. The pictures below show the alligator in front of the bench, and then a cropped closeup, showing that it is gaping. I only got a few steps closer before it entered the water. (and I was still at least 50 yards away)

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                      BENCHWARMER NEEDED                                         PINK BENCH MARKER WITH TEETH
It's been a while since I've seen so many alligators on land, just basking. I believe that the increased water depth allows the alligators to cool enough so that they require additional help from the sun to warm back to optimum metabolic temperature. The alligators I observed didn't bask for very long before they started gaping and/or re-entering the water. This also makes sense, because the sun was very warm. The other general movement (trail crossings) I believe are due to higher water on both sides of the trail, with food available on either side.
And, here's a little bit of further news. On August 10th, we hatched some alligator eggs (about 28, of which 18 were "good"). I happened to be at the park, and so was able to help. I was unable to get pictures because I was busy. A week later, on August 17th, more alligator eggs were hatched (I missed that. I was at work.)
Then a few more hatched on the 19th, and 1 more on the 20th.  These eggs were taken from three nests that had been found and monitored around 40Acre Lake. The rising water made taking the eggs necessary. Most of the hatchlings will be returned to the wild---very soon. This hatching is a bit early (especially the August 10th) but the first batch actually began chirping and trying to hatch themselves.  I still think any remaining wild nests should hatch within the next two or three weeks.  I'll probably post some pictures of the hatchlings here later.

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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