Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously observed, “In the Spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Unfortunately for us Floridians, it isn’t only male spring breakers who have the opposite sex on their minds at this time of the year. Gator mating season here we come!
Why should the average Floridian care about reptile romance? Well, for one thing, gators are everywhere, and I’m not taking about people who wear blue and orange and hate us Bulldogs. An estimated 1.3 million gators reside here in Florida, and they populate every one of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties. So, like it it or not, some alligator action will be occurring at a location somewhere near you.
Alligator mating season runs from April through July. The month of April is devoted to courtship with actual mating occurring in May or June. Unlike spring breakers, alligators just don’t pick up a cute gator at the local sand bar and have a brief fling. An elaborate courtship ritual is required. Simply buying Ms. Gator a drink won’t cut it.
How does one know when mating season has begun? Your eyes and your ears will tell you. First, you may see alligators roaming about in search of a mate. Adult alligators tend to be solitary creatures, so effort has to be made to go out and find Ms./Mr. Right Reptile. They’ve been spotted swimming in residential pools and hiding under cars in business parking lots during mating season.The males are more active and territorial during this time, so watch out!
Secondly, you will hear the gators looking for love. A distinct bellowing sound is used to announce their presence to potential mates. This very loud sound is produced in the key of B flat and may be induced by someone playing a tuba. Thus, if you are bored (and crazy) one night during mating season, go out to your local water body and toot your horn. A bellowing chorus may return your greeting. I’d suggest being near a car for a quick getaway once the pumped up gators hear what they might deem is a mating call.
In order to produce a bellow, the gator arches his back, raises his tail, and lets a long roar rip. The sound produces underwater vibrations and also causes the surface of the water to “sprinkle.” This part of the courtship ritual is referred to as the water dance. Gators may engage in group courtship, so following bellows a dance party may ensue. Whoever’s water beads bounce the highest impresses the females. He’s the man–er, reptile–with whom they all want to breed.
Now these are big gators doing this water dancing. Male gators are sexually mature when they reach 7 feet. Females reach sexual maturity when they are 6 feet. They have some happy, dancing feet at this point. Cue the water dance.
As is apparently the case with the male of any species, the male gator wants to show off to a potential mate. He will slap the water with his jaw and lift his tail high. Oooh! How manly! But the female gator is not easily impressed. The courtship routine lasts for hours. One tail lift isn’t going to cut it.
Courtship is initiated by the gators rubbing and pressing each other with their snouts and backs. Hmm! And I only pictured Eskimos rubbing noses. The gators then move on to head-slapping, wrestling, and attempting to submerge each other. Nothing makes me swoon like a handsome guy trying to keep my head under water or pinning me to the floor–not!!! All this rough housing leads up to the actual reproductive act which, according to the experts, lasts only a few seconds. Maybe the gators should’ve toned it down a bit during the hours of courtship ritual.
All this alligator activity typically leads to the female being in the family way. I doubt she finds out she PG by the rabbit dying because she’d have eaten the rabbit before any test could’ve been done. Ms. Gator becomes a maternal reptile (doesn’t that sound like an oxymoron?) and prepares a mound nest several feet high. She then deposits between 32 and 46 eggs in her nest which she stays around for the 63 to 63 days it takes for them to incubate. And where’s the baby daddy? Who knows. He’s apparently had his spring fun and moved on.
Hatching occurs in mid-August to early September. Baby gators, with faces only mommy gators could love, arrive to become members of Florida’s state reptile population. A few years down the road, they’ll engage in the same behavior and produce their own offspring. It’s the circle of life!
Just WONDER-ing: Have you ever seen a gator up close? Do you think baby gators are cute? Is it hard for you to imagine a gator being romantic?
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