ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 6g: ON LAND; WALKING AND BASKING 7
This page was born 07/19/2008.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 06/07/2016
Images and contents on this page copyright 2002-2016 Richard M. Dashnau 

Alligators although amphibious (not AMPHIBIANS) are in the water most of the time. 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.

03/27/2016 I was near the Elm Lake Water Station, near a couple alligators that were basking.  There as a large one partially on the trail--though mostly on the grass and
facing Elm Lake.  One of the most frequently asked questions visitors on the trail as me is: "Is that alligator a male or a female?"  There is almost no way to be 100-percent sure
of an alligators gender aside from probing its cloaca. And, we don't do that. And, we are not going to go over to that one and do it.
But there are a few other indicators that can lead to a good guess of the gender.  For example, if the alligator is watching over a nest, or babies, it is probably a female. If it is over 10 feet long,
it is probably a male.
On this particular day, a person in a family group asked the question, and I gave another answer--which I use sparingly, depending upon the audience. First, I mention that I know
the gender of one particular male. That alligator normally patrols the area around the Spillway Bridge. And, I know it's a male because it showed me its genitalia. (I have described
that event on my web page here.  Look for the entry dated 5/18/2014.)  I had just described that event to today's  family when the large alligator in front of us did the same thing.
It stood up, lifted its hindquarters, defecated, and extended its genitalia.  The "cloaca" is a single opening that is used for access to digestive tract, urinary AND reproductive organs.
Here it was being used to access 2 of those functions.  It was one of those funny coincidences that sometimes rewards trail interpreters--almost as if the alligator had heard us and
was obliging us with a demonstration.  I took a few pictures to demonstrate this event, and I also took a few of specific features so I could recognize the alligator again. Here is another that
I can say is definitely a male!

  

(update 4/14/2016)
Since everything comes out of the cloaca, I wondered if the penis had to be "moved out of the way" to allow an alligator to defecate. I looked through my alligator books at home, and couldn't find anything.
I went online, and finally found this article by Ed Yong. That article had a link to this paper by Diane A. Kelly: "Penile Anatomy and Hypotheses of Erectile Function in the American
Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis):Muscular Eversion and Elastic Retraction". (link here )
According to those articles the alligator penis is composed mostly of a collagen core so it is "always" rigid, and curved. This rigid, comma-shaped organ is "sheathed" by being held inside the hip, above the ischium.
There, it is covered by the sets of cloacal muscles, and attached to the hip by two major ligaments/tendons. The penis is extended when the cloacal muscles flex, which squeeze it out, which eventually stretches at
least one of those 2 ligaments ( The ligamentum rami. I suspect the other(ventral penile tendon)  may act to stabilize the orgain as it extends).  
This stretches the ligamentum rami enough so that when the cloacal
muscles relax, the l. rami *pulls the penis back into storage*!


   

So...if the cloacal muscles cause this to happen, does this mean that those same muscles-which may be used for defecation as wel-would always cause this reaction? This was the only information I could find. 
I've created these images based on photos and figures in the study by Diane A. Kelly--but I have created these images from my own photos.

11/02/2008-- There's been a bit of activity since my last update. Some interesting items, but all overshadowed by a visit from a hurricane named Ike. I'm fine. My dog, Buddha, is fine. And here is a new story.
We are beginning to experience the cooler weather of fall. Nights have become cooler. The alligators are more active on land, basking and walking and generally taking advantage of solar energy.
Previous visitors to this domain may recall that I bought a small "sport" video camera about a year ago. It's a small, self-contained, waterproof device that will record video when started until it runs out of memory or until it is stopped. I originally tried using it attached to my dog, and you can see details of that on her web page, here.
With all the alligators crossing the trails, I decided that I'd try to take some video footage of an alligator crossing the trail--but from the level of the alligator. I'd need to find an alligator that was preparing to cross a trail. Then I'd have to do at least three things. First, find an alligator that intends to cross a trail. Second, determine the path the alligator is going to take. Third, start the camera and place it on the anticipated path; but I'd have to do it without interfering with the alligator. That means I'd have to place the camera before the alligator started moving; and far enough from the alligator so it wouldn't change direction or stop; and, with a short enough interval so that the alligator passes the camera before it runs out of memory. I wanted the camera to be unobtrusive, and as low as possible, so I couldn't mount it on anything.
While I was watching some alligators basking at New Horseshoe lake, an alligator turned, and I figured that it would be crossing the trail to Elm Lake. I decided to--if I could time it correctly--try to place the sport camera in the path of the alligator and hope it would walk near or over the camera. I had to do this long before the alligator got close, or else it would either change direction (to avoid me) or stop walking entirely. The alligator began walking, and I placed the camera. My timing was good, but I had the camera pointing the wrong way, and the alligator walked past just barely in view. The first two images below (GATORCROSS 1 A; and GATORCROSS 1 B) show the alligator as it is passing the camera. The small grey object (sort of shaped like a flashlight) is the camera. The third image (OFF TO THE RIGHT) shows an image from the video clip.  I was a bit disappointed, but not for long. The other alligator had decided to cross, too!

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                         GATORCROSS 1 A                                                           GATORCROSS 1 B                                                 OFF TO THE RIGHT
 This time, I prepared my video camera on the tripod, and placed the sport camera in the path of the other alligator. This time, I was ready with my still camera, and two video cameras. The alligator walked directly towards the sport camera--in fact, it knocked over the camera! Meanwhile I took turns moving the camcorder, and shooting photos. The images below show still photos and images from frame grabs from the video clips shot with the camcorder.
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                            FRAMEGRAB 01                                                        FRAMEGRAB 02                                                                    PHOTO 01                                                                 PHOTO 02                             

  --
                          FRAMEGRAB 03                                                          FRAMEGRAB 04 

Finally, here are images from the sport camera video. The camera is not on any tripod, so it's hard to get it to lie straight. The idea is to be an unintrusive as possible. Although the alligator didn't walk right over the camera, I'm still happy with the results. I was lucky. Linked here are three video clips. One at "human level"--from the tripod (5.4 mb); one from "gator level"--on the ground (4.7 mb) ; and one clip with the footage from the two cameras edited together (8.0 mb) . I added a bit of music to that one. The video from the front clearly shows how the alligator's foot makes a horizontal arc as it moves back and forth during walking. Today's RICKUBISCAM shows the front leg moving forward just before the camera got knocked over. I can't believe I was able to place the camera so the alligator passed so close! 

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                        FRAMEGRAB 01                                                               FRAMEGRAB 02                                                              FRAMEGRAB 03                                                         FRAMEGRAB 04     

 
                        OLD RICKUBISCAM
Update 01/03/09--When I watched the video of the alligator coming towards the camera, I could see a big difference in the vertical alignment of the front leg compared to the rear leg. Note how the femur, tibia/fibula, and foot are in a straight vertical line in the back leg while the front leg swings out to the side--and the humerus is out of line with the radius/ulna and foot of the front leg (look at framegrab 04 above). I was able to find some interesting ideas in this study:
LOCOMOTION IN ALLIGATOR MISSISSIPPIENSIS: KINEMATIC EFFECTS OF SPEED AND POSTURE AND THEIR RELEVANCE TO THE  SPRAWLING-TO-ERECT PARADIGM
by STEPHEN M. REILLY AND JASON A. ELIAS
Department of Biological Sciences, Ohio University, Athens, OH 45701, USA
This study indicates that among "quadrapedal tetrapods" (A tetrapod is an animal with 4 limbs, or one that has 4-limbed animals in its ancestry ( a snake is classed as a tetrapod); while a quadraped is an animal that walks on four legs), crocodilians are unique for walking at varied levels--sprawling or walking. It is generally thought that quadrapeds are grouped as "sprawlers"--lizards and amphibians; or "erect walkers"--mammals and dinosaurs; with crocodilians being "semi-erect" because of the high-walk. It was also generally thought that crocodilians might represent some kind of evolutionary step between the two other modes of walking.
However, this study indicates that the mechanics of the alligator "sprawl" and the "high walk" are not really much different, and that the "sprawl" is actually a sort of really low "high walk". (The alligator high walk has been defined as a "walking trot". A "trot" is when a quadraped--such as a horse--moves forward by moving diagonal pairs of legs forward. (Right forelimb moves up at the same time as left hind limb, and then alternates.). The alligator moves this way, but at a walking pace--hence "walking trot".  The ancestors of alligators were actually bipedal digitigrades (this means that these creatures walked on TWO legs, and on their toes (this isn't odd. Lots of animals walk on their toes. Dogs and cats do, so do birds.)) Alligators now are quadrupedal plantigrades (they walk on 4 legs, and on the flats of their feet (the long bones of their feet--metatarsals--are parallel with the ground). Bears, raccoons, and humans are also plantigrades.). So, the alligators method of walking is probably an adaptation back from bipedalism, and so can't be used as a model for a possible intermediate method of going from a sprawling gait to an erect one.

5/18/2008--Walking alligators. Here it is, near the end of alligator mating season (March-May). Alligators seems to have eased off bellowing--at least on the mornings that I go out to the park. But, I just might be getting there after it happens. Temperatures have been rising, and I haven't seen large numbers of alligators upon the banks. Today, however, the alligators were crossing the trails quite frequently.
At around 11:40 am, I saw this alligator move to short wooden footbridge at 40-Acre Lake. After sitting under the bridge for about 15 minutes, it walked underneath the bridge and entered Pilant Slough. The anigif below shows part of the walk.


Then, around 1:00pm, I was on the South side of Elm Lake, not far from the chemical toilets. I had been watching a large alligator that had just gotten into the water.  There was another smaller alligator in the water nearby, which seemed to have been driven off by this large one.  A group of park visitors had stopped, and I was talking to them about alligator behavior.  I indicated the large one, and was describing how I expected it to climb out of the water and lie along the bank. I had just spoken about this, and was saying how this alligator might be dominant in that vicinity, when he (possibly "he" because of the size) climbed out of the water--as if on cue.
The visitors got excited, and I was going to say something else about his movements, when I noticed the he did NOT turn sideways, but just continued walking right towards my camera, and towards me! I'm always entranced by the slow, measured pace that a large unstressed alligator takes as it high-walks. I couldn't remain entranced, because I believed that the alligator would have walked right through my tripod. I briefly entertained the thought of letting him walk through it, but changed my mind and moved my camera (it would have fallen and gotten broken). The series of images below are the frame captures from the video clip as he moved towards me, and I moved the camera. And here is the link for the short video clip (wmv 5.8mb).

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I have been at the park, and watching alligator movements and reading about them, for about 8 years. On these very pages, I have posted clips of them walking on land. Therefore, I'm speaking with some authority when I say that I knew that the alligator had absolutely NO interest in me at all.  I could tell this from experience, and from reading the alligator's body language.  Part of my job at the park is to educate park visitors whenever possible. In some situations, this can be done through explanation. In others, I hope to educate by example.

 
While the alligator moved towards me, I moved slowly, and at the same pace that he did.  Although I had to reach towards the alligator to get my tripod, I took one step back, one step to the side, and one step towards the camera--at the same pace he was walking. Then I slowly (at the same speed) picked up the tripod, stepped back and out of his path, and set the tripod back down. I did not speak. At all times that I was still in front of him, I kept full concentration on his head and upper body. I was quite far from him (not within his reach) during all of this. By watching the head, I could verify that he was not tracking me.
An alligator is most comfortable in the water. It's the alligator's shelter, its food source, and its communication medium. An alligator is more vulnerable on land, even though it will lie on it, or walk over it.  Even a large alligator on land is more likely to be defensive. By moving at the same pace as the alligator, I didn't send possible visual cues that would cause a defensive reaction. By not speaking, I didn't set off any auditory alarms, either. Once I was out of his path, I did not move any more. By remaining by my tripod, I probably presented a more stationary profile. On the alligator's end, I suspect (by observation--I have not verified by reference) that the larger alligators do assert more dominent traits--such as walking as though everything else will give way. Therefore, the alligator "decided" that it was going to cross the trail, and I would give ground. Once I was out of the alligator's path, I definitely held no interest for it, and I could film at my leisure. Unfortunately, I had my cameras zoomed to film him a bit further away, so everything is quite close.
I could have moved further back, but I wanted to limit all movement--especially of something as large as my legs--once I got out of his way.
While I was filming on my side, some of the park visitors were filming also. Some of them were nice enough to get together and send me a picture of the crossing from their viewpoint. I'm hoping they'll sent their short clip, too. What's important is that they sent the photo, and gave me permission to use it. I was told that giving them credit was unncessary--so I'm not going to name anyone here. A BIG thanks to you all, though! Today's RICKUBISCAM is cropped from the photo. Below is the full shot, resized for this page.

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The alligators are a big reason that many visitors come out to our park. They are the biggest reason I began to volunteer there. The alligators are beautiful, majestic, complex creatures.  It gives me a thrill every single time I see one walk by me. By exercising care and giving the respect due to all animals, all visitors to the park could potentially enjoy such a sight.  The most important point is to stay clear of the alligators, and follow the park signs. Do NOT approach them, do NOT feed them, do NOT harass them. The alligators, like all the wildlife at the park, have priority.  Sometimes, just staying clear isn't enough, because animals move, after all. Just using a little common sense, keeping a clear head, and showing consideration for all life forms; sometimes one can have a wonderful interaction with living wild creatures.  By following these simple guidelines, everyone who visits the park can enjoy sights like these and can insure that other people will enjoy them as well.  Listen closely to the video clip. Near the end, amongs the excited exclamations, there's a male voice saying something like "It was worth the drive out here just to see that!" He's certainly right. I see something worth the drive every time I go out there.
Not too long (maybe 15 minutes) after this crossing I heard a headslap on that side of the trail. I slowly moved towards where I thought the sound came from. At about 1:30 (about 20 minutes after the big one crossed), another alligator (it looked a bit smaller than the first one) crossed the trail from Pilant Slough into Elm Lake. I turned and was just able to catch the end of the crossing. It crossed right next to the pier. The anigif below shows the pictures I shot.

  

10/22-10/29/2006-ALLIGATOR PARTY!--BBSP recieved a large amount of rain the week before October 22 (which was a Sunday). This caused water to flow over parts of the park that have been totally dry for a time that could extend from 3 months to over a year. When this water eventually made its way through Old Horseshoe Lake and into New Horseshoe lake, it carried large amounts of silt and decaying material. This caused a probably oxygen depletion in New Horseshoe Lake which--in turn--caused a massive fish kill. Large numbers of dead and dying fish appeared at the surface of the lake.
And the alligators began feasting.
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Somehow, news of this occurrance spread through the alligators in the park (perhaps it was the odor of decaying fish; or maybe even the sound of alligator jaws working, and predatory splashing which carried the news) and a massive alligator picnic came into being for most of the week between 10/22 and 10/29.
Although I was at the park for most of that week, I was attending some training, and didn't have time to observe anything until Friday (10/27).  What a sight! During that week we had a cold front pass through (with a LOT more rain). The cool air, and the rain dropped the temperatur of the air and the water. The engorged alligators, seeking heat (thermal energy) to help them digest, massed on the banks of New Horseshoe lake to absorb solar energy. I could see some alligators near the benches of the far bank, so I walked towards them. When I crossed a low point, I found some alligator prints (and tracks from other animals as well!)--really LARGE alligator prints. The image above shows a back footprint and front footprint with 2 quarters for scale.   The first picture below (PRINTS CLOSER) is a little better shot. Alligators have 4 toes on the rear feet, and 5 toes on their front feet. Of these, only the three inner toes (those closest to the body) have claws on them. Look at the footprints, and you can see the deep marks made by the claws.

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                         PRINTS CLOSER                                                  PRINTS AND MY HAND                                            INTERESTING BENCH VIEW                                    ANOTHER, BIGGER PILE!       

 
                     REALLY FULL ALLIGATOR
I rounded the curve, and cresting the small rise, I could see the bench, and in front of it there were eleven alligators (see INTERESTING BENCH, above). I moved slowly past the rear of the bench, moving slowly and quietly. About 30 feet past the first pile, there was another pile of about 14 more alligators! (see ANOTHER BIGGER PILE, above). I just stood there, enjoying the company of this mass of reptiles. Some of them gaped, some changed position. I took some pictures. Behind me, about 50 feet away, there was a large flock of Ibises feeding in the marshy grass. Something spooked them after about 10 minutes, and they all took off, splashing and flapping. The noise startled the alligators, and some of them moved into the water.

After some time, they began to climb back onto the shore. Remember, they needed that sunlight! I took a picture of this one as it hauled itself back up onto land. (see REALLY FULL ALLIGATOR, above.) Look at that swollen belly! There's a LOT of fish in there.
Sunday, 10/29, was another great day. By then, the fish were gone. That interesting dead fish odor was gone. The alligators were still there basking, though. I watched a couple park visitors near one of the benches and got this great picture. (See WHAT DO THEY SEE?, below) The two women are looking off into the woods; and it appears that the alligator is watching them, wondering, "What are they looking at?". Here's a bigger version of the same image. As the day wore on, more Park Staff and Volunteers appeared in the area, partly to be sure that all human/alligator interactions were peaceful; and just because the alligators were there. Here's Chuck, one of the volunteers, monitoring the area near the benches (see KEEP YOUR DISTANCE, below).

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           WHAT DO THEY SEE?                                                     KEEP YOUR DISTANCE                                          PASSING THROUGH 1                                                    PASSING THROUGH 2              
         WHAT DO THEY SEE? 640                                                                                                                            PASSING THROUGH? 640 

 
                   PASSING THROUGH 3
After a few hours, the "first basking shift" began returning to the water as they got warm. However, it was evidently time for some of the alligators to leave the party. At about 1:30pm, one of the basking alligators-instead of returning to the water-walked uphill and crossed the trail (see PASSING THROUGH 1-3 above, and 4-5 below).  This is always a thrill for me. I'm always watching the alligators near me, and by its body language, I knew the alligator would be coming my way. I cleared the people from its path, and the alligator just kept walking. We want to keep a clear field in front of the alligators. An alligator is vulnerable out of the water, and confronting or bothering it could cause it to stand its ground or begin defensive behavior.  We don't want this. This alligator walked through the grass and into a shallow extension of Pilant Lake.

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                  PASSING THROUGH 4                                                  PASSING THROUGH 5                                                   SIGNAGE TOUR 1                                            SIGNAGE TOUR2                                                                                                                                                                           


     SIGNAGE TOUR 3  SIGNAGE TOUR 3 640

About an hour later, another alligator decided to leave the party. I noticed this one while it was still in the water, and I knew it was examining the bank above it. I was talking about  that alligator to some visitors when it started walking out of the water. Then, it passed right by the display plaque, and one of our "CAUTION, ALLIGATORS" signs. (see SIGNAGE TOUR 1-3 above, 4-7 below) This alligator turned and went into Elm Lake. As I did before, and always, I made sure that all humans were out of the alligator's path.
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                      SIGNAGE TOUR 4                                                          SIGNAGE TOUR 5                                                   SIGNAGE TOUR 6                                                       SIGNAGE TOUR 7
It's been wonderful to see so much water return to the park.

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 8ON LAND 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.