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November 11, 2016

10 Things You Didn't Know About Alligators

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Alligator
The only thing that comes to mind when someone mentions alligators is the swamps and marshes of Miami and the fatal attacks that take place there. Imaginations run wild and we assume dozens of people are taken by the crocodilians every year when the reality is only 23 people have been killed by alligators in the whole of Florida since 1948.

Like every creature on Earth, knowledge about these fascinating creatures can only inspire astonishment, respect and further interest, much as it was for me with tarantulas. Crocodilians and alligators are no different and it is quite amazing what you don't know until you do some research. After reading Diane Ackerman's 'The Moon by Whale Light and other adventures among bats, penguins, crocodilians, and whales', I decided to do a series of posts on facts about the four creatures she meets - the first was about bats - because it was amazing how an animal lover like myself had no idea about these animals.

Here are 10 jaw-dropping facts about alligators:

1. It is the female who instigates courtship. The male is so focused on guarding his territory that she literally has to smash into him, climb on him, and basically make a nuisance of herself until he reciprocates. I use the word 'smash' because, for us, that's what it is - it looks soft and gentle as an observer but our delicate bodies would be crushed by the force. In essence, this groping serves for both parties to test each other's strength.



2. The male also has his part in the mating ritual: the water dance. When he bellows, inaudible sound waves vibrate the water around his body, making the water around him look like miniature fountains. While the bellowing scares other males, the females also seem to enjoy it.

3. Alligators can jump. They don't do it often, but they can. They can also climb fences.

4. Their eyes are in possession of football-shaped pupils that remain vertical to the horizon all the time - like a gyroscope. This is most likely the reason alligator-handlers put alligators on their back (most likely before they put their hands in their mouths), because moving them literally disorients them. It has nothing to do with strength or taming the creature and everything to do with the fact that the poor alligator feels like it's been thrown off a building. [Read about why some animals have vertical pupils here.]

alligator-eye5. Female alligators have a clitoris, large enough to be confused with a penis. No one, however, knows if they can have an orgasm, as it's a bit difficult to do with a 2.6 metre toothed deathtrap in a science lab...

6. In certain atmospheric conditions and temperatures, it may look as though crocodilians are emitting vapour from their noses when they bluster. In this case, they could truly look like dragons blowing smoke out their nostrils.

7. Alligators measure their prey by height, so one way to scare one off if it wants to attack you is to stand upright. (Don't take my word for it!)

8. Alligators live to 30 years in the wild.

9. Large alligators bite down with 1342,6kg of force. It's one of the most powerful ever recorded.

10. Alligators also eat fruit when they have the opportunity and they are possibly important dispersers of plant seeds.

As a final thought from Ackerman's book:
That a creature so beautiful, wild and mysterious could be turned into a handbag or pair of shoes gave me a slow chill. [79]

{Image credits:
Lead: By Kate Perez - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, Link
Alligator eye: By Everglades NPS from Homestead, Florida, United States (Alligator Eye, NPSphoto, G.Gardner) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, Florida Memory Project}

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