Saturday, May 12, 2012

Female Alligators are Great Mothers

Alligator Baby
Photo Credit: William Stamps Howard (via Wikimedia Commons)
When we think of animals that are good parents, reptiles usually don't come to mind. We tend to think that reptiles aren't very maternal - that they lay their eggs and move on with their lives. However, alligator mothers are some of the best moms around! (With babies as cute as the ones in the picture, how can they not be?)

A female alligator will begin breeding when she is between 7 and 12 years old. Males and females come together to mate in spring, and once the deed is done, the female will search for a place to build a nest. She will gather reeds and other plants to create the mound shaped nest, which will be about 3 - 3.5  feet tall and 7 feet wide. Then she'll lay between 20 and 60 eggs and will cover them up. She'll let the heat from the vegetation in the nest keep the eggs warm (being huge and cold-blooded, she doesn't sit on the eggs to warm them with her body like a bird would). 

The mom remains on guard near the nest for a little over two months while the eggs incubate. The babies chirp as they hatch, and when the mom hears the sound, she'll uncover the nest. If any babies are having difficulty hatching, mom will gently roll the egg in her mouth to crack it. Once all babies are out, mom will carry them in her mouth to the water, where they'll gather together in a pod. 

Baby alligators can hunt and swim, but they are too small to defend themselves from predators such as raccoons, snakes, raptors and herons. The mom will use her powerful jaws and huge body to protect as many of her babies as she can, and the family stays together for at least a year (sometimes two).

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