Slide Alligator

Baby Alligator © UF/IFAS – Tyler Jones

ALLIGATORS

The American Alligator is the crocodilian that can be found in this part of Florida, but it is VERY rare to encounter one on Pensacola Beach. Though these animals can tolerate brackish conditions, they prefer freshwater habitats – so it is the freshwater ponds on the island where they are occasionally found. Alligators have been known to swim across the sound and explore the island. They have been seen walking along the beach and entering the Gulf of Mexico, but it is not their natural habitat and they won’t stay long.

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American Alligator © Harry Purcell

Alligators are heavy bodied animals, with four limbs that protrude from the side. This creates some problems with locomotion on land but they are more adept in the water. They have an upper and lower eyelid but also a clear one that allows them to see well underwater. They have a long snout with numerous sharp canine teeth. This feature plays a role in their diet. Alligators must be able to grab and swallow their prey whole – or cut it into small pieces to swallow – they have no molars so they cannot chew.

 

When grabbing large prey, like deer, they will do what is called the death roll to dismember the animal into portions and will often drown the prey and stash it beneath the water under a log. This allows time for the flesh to become softer and easier to bite and swallow. But more often than not, they select smaller prey that is easier to deal with.

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Alligator

Unlike many other reptiles, alligators will guard and defend their nests. Often hatchlings will make a squawking sound when they feel threatened. Mom will come running and her parental instincts are strong. Alligator nests are piles of leaf litter (they do not dig holes as most reptiles do). When wondering around in the marsh and you see something that resembles raked leaves – keep your distance. Like turtles, the sex of the hatchling is determined by the temperature during incubation. Females will care for the young for up to a year – another less “cold-blooded” difference you find in this reptile.  Alligators have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. Sounds are important to them and they actually communicate with each other – don’t forget – mom can hear the squawking babies!

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Baby Gators © UF/IFAS – Tyler Jones

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