American alligator ~ Alligator mississippiensis
Whenever I visit the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge, I always stop first at the boardwalk that bisects a large freshwater pond. There’s always something to see — waterfowl, water-loving plants, water snakes — and of course there are alligators.
Last Sunday, I arrived just after dawn to find the larger than usual male alligator shown in the photo above lurking at the edge of the boardwalk, wearing a garland of duckweed and only occasionally opening an eye to give me an appraising glance. As I was standing above him, scanning the reeds for birds, he suddenly began to bellow. It went on for several minutes, and looked and sounded like this.
Needless to say, a bellowing alligator perhaps twelve feet away was enough to raise my adrenalin level. I backed off a bit, and then began taking photos. I often hear the creatures’ bellows during mating season, but never had seen the display; it was an opportunity not to be missed.
Turning on the bubble machine
Male alligators bellow to attract females, establish territory, and claim their place at the top of pond hierarchies. Filling themselves with air, they inflate like a balloon, lifting their bodies out of the water. Then, they raise their heads and tails, and produce that deep, low sound that vibrates the water around them.
When one male bellows, others in the area will respond, creating a curtain of sound. But in this instance there were no responses from other alligators, and I certainly wasn’t going to challenge the fellow with a bellow of my own.
Instead, remembering what I’d read about alligators’ jumping ability, I considered the creature’s large size, the relative fragility of the boardwalk fence, and moved on: content to have had the experience.
What a self-satisfied smile!
90 thoughts on “See You Later, Alligator!”
Whenever I see alligators, I think just how long their family tree is!!!
I couldn’t remember precisely when their precursors emerged. It was in the Cretaceous period: that time when the Western Interior Seaway split the North American continent into two sections. With the middle of what’s now the United States covered in water, they would have had plenty of banks to sun on.
I hadn’t thought of that!
I’ve never thought of this, GP, but it’s a very intriguing thought.
They were here long before humans were an afterthought. lol
In evolutionary terms, they certainly have proven the value of having a thick skin!
If I thought anything when the bellowing began, “Wow!” probably comes close to describing my reaction.
Wow! He does seem intimidating and that’s before the bellowing started. I was going to ask if there were others chorusing with him but you answered that. It did sound like more than one. Do they make sounds as they inhale?
I smile like that after a good long burp.
I don’t remember any sound at all during the inhalation process: at least, not during the minutes I watched this gator. That may be why a sudden bellow is so startling; it seems to come out of nowhere, with nothing to signal “Now I’m going to impress you.”
In this same pond, I’ll occasionally hear a chorus of grunts and lighter bellows as the youngsters develop their technique, but I’ve never heard more than one producing this truly loud sound. It may be that the others are around, but intimidated.
Nice catch! And fortunately you weren’t the catch. It’s understandable that you didn’t bellow back. With a bird, I’ve occasionally imitated its call and found that it replies in kind.
Birds will do that. I’ve had the experience with mallards and cardinals, and I can whistle up bluejays and doves, but the mallards are the most responsive.
After about an hour, I stopped by the boardwalk again before heading over to San Bernard. It took only a couple of minutes for this gator to emerge from the water lilies across the pond and head straight for me, watching me the whole way. It’s the first time in my life I’ve felt like a menu item.
The word menu is French for ‘small, tiny,’ as in minute, which could describe the pieces you’d have ended up in if you’d been less alert.
Now, that’s an interesting etymological tidbit — served up with verve, as always.
Sounds like my college roommate snoring.
What a treat to witness this. I’ve been on that boardwalk, and you were right to move back…WAY back. Unfortunately, too many people treat nature like they’re in a zoo and not in the wild, with much different consequences.
Nice pics, Linda.
The internet is awash in video recordings of alligators bellowing, but there’s nothing like experiencing it first-hand.
There’s a sign at the entrance to the refuge that says, “Do not feed or harass the wildlife.” Why anyone would be tempted to harass an alligator is hard to imagine, but there are too many people who feed them, making caution even more important. There’s one roadside slough where people often stop to throw food from their car windows, and I’ve seen gators head for the bank when a car stops. That’s one spot where I don’t try for a photo unless I can stay in the car.
So primeval. I hope the other ladies were also impressed. (The lady alligators, that is.)
There surely were some females around, and I suspect they were impressed. The proof will show up later in the year, when the mamas and their babies, and groups of teenagers, tend to be more visible in this same pond. The pond is large enough to support some small islands, and there’s quite a bit of thick growth around the edges, so I suspect there’s some egg-laying going on even now.
Your post stimulated my interest in alligator reproduction. According to the Smithsonian Zoo, “Both males and females reach sexual maturity when they are about 6 feet (1.8 meters) long, a length attained at about 10 to 12 years.” I wouldn’t have guessed it would take so long. So your friend is at least 10-12 years old.
I don’t doubt that he’s older than that, and perhaps by some years, since he was about 10-12 feet long. A useful way to calculate their length is to estimate the distance from a spot between their eyes and a spot between the nostrils on their snouts. Each inch of head length is equivalent to one foot of body length, and it’s consistent no matter the age. A very young one may have a head length of one inch, and sure enough, it will be about a foot long. This fellow’s head length clearly was 10-12″, so he was a very big boy.
Believe it or not, the females possess quite a maternal instinct. I’ve often found a mother with a dozen or more babies sunning themselves on her back; they stay with her for a couple of years. My favorite alligator fact is that mothers will gently carry new hatchlings to the water in their mouths.
Oh, wow! Being completely unfamiliar with alligators I’d have interpreted this as an aggresive behavior at my presence, so I can certainly understand how it raised your adrenalin level. We don’t have any alligators around here but we sometimes joke about having one like in the movie, Lake Placid. This makes me think of my encounter with a copperhead snake on a side trail. Ever since then I’ve kept it in mind anytime I step off the main trail or am in an area that seems suited to them, and I’ll admit to being a bit more cautious then I was before that encounter.
From what I’ve read and observed, and from the tales I’ve heard, alligators aren’t necessarily aggressive without cause, but they are willing to announce their presence. I’ve scared up a few lounging in grasses along the sloughs and bayous, and it’s always a question who’s more startled: me, or the gator. They’ve always headed straight for the protection of the water; sometimes, one will surface for another look, but it’s rare at that point to see more than its eyes and the tip of its snout.
Your caution around the copperheads is warranted. It’s interesting how a first-hand encounter can sensitize us to the presence of generally unseen creatures. I once stepped on a coiled-up snake in grasses taller than my knees, and it certainly changed my view of grass-filled ditches. Even our dunes aren’t without the occasional threat: rattlesnakes come to mind.
What an impressive video, Linda! Well, and pictures, too. I’ve only seen one alligator so far, in the wildlife refuge in Port Aransas.
That makes sense. Alligators can manage in both fresh and salt water, but they prefer fresh. I’ve seen them at the Aransas Wildlife Refuge, but I’ve never seen one around Rockport or Port A. They’re such interesting creatures, and a real link to the past.
To the best of my knowledge, there’s a resident one at the Leonabelle Turnbull Birding Centre in Port A.
That’s on my list of places-to-be-visited.
It certainly is worth visiting. I was there again earlier this year and again saw that alligator.
Wow, that WAS quite an opportunity, Linda! Very impressive!!!
I certainly was impressed — as well as being surprised. It’s that time of year. Pretty soon love-lorn gators will be cruising the golf courses and crossing freeways, seaching for their special someone.
Oh, how cool was that?! You got to see that bull strut his stuff.
I can only imagine the decibel level, being that close. I’d bet you felt it in your chest, as well as in your ears.
As impressive as the noise was, the bubbles created by the vibration were even more interesting. I wish I could have caught the height of the spray from them, but it wasn’t a moment for fussing with camera settings.
I suppose you’ve heard about the person who was dragged into a retention pond and killed in Myrtle Beach on Friday. Needless to say, that gator was dispatched pretty quickly. Reading the article, I did have to shake my head. It mentioned two other people who were taken by gators. One was a guy retrieving Frisbees from a lake in Florida, and the other was a woman in Charleston. I suppose it’s not nice to laugh, but still…
“The last fatal alligator attack to occur in South Carolina was in May 2020, when a 58-year-old woman saw an alligator and went to touch it, despite her friend’s warnings, according to The Post and Courier. The victim, identified as Cynthia Covert, was dragged into a pond behind her friend’s home on Kiawah Island, near Charleston, and said calmly, “I guess I won’t do this again.”
No kidding. There’s always more to the story, of course. You can get more details here.
That bubbling is very, very impressive, isn’t it?
Oh, the local TV news and the paper were all over those gator attacks.
It boggles my mind, the things people will do around wild animals. It’s not a Disney movie being narrated by Rex Allen, folks. Go buy another Frisbee. Don’t pet the gators. Don’t feed the bears or try to take close up home movies/pictures of rutting elk.
It’s like they see wildlife and suddenly don’t have the sense God gave a goose.
And more and more people are so detached from the natural world, they do seem to think of it as nothing more than a backdrop for their selfies. Silly people.
What a treat to see this. You were braver than I would have been!
I’m not certain I would have sought out a bellowing bull alligator, but since he was there and decided to perform, I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass.
Linda, I’d have been terrified! That’s an angry-sounding bellow, much like a lion’s roar, and not knowing it was a mating call, I’d have thought it was in attack mode. Shoot, even learning it was a mating call doesn’t make me less nervous!
The good news is that girl alligators apparently find the bellowing irresistible. Something I didn’t know is that the biggest bellows belong to the biggest males, making them the best choice for a mate. It makes sense, of course, but it’s one of those things I’d just never thought about.
One of the things I’ve learned over the years is that a little knowledge can help to overcome fear. Alligators are fairly predictable, and not given to attacking humans unless they’re provoked or someone behaves stupidly. Still, there is a reason for signs at the refuges that advise keeping dogs on a leash!
Oh my that’s a sizable alligator. Great. Shots of it and I loved the movie. Powerful creature.
He was big — somewhere around ten to twelve feet long. He certainly was loud, and a prolific bubble producer. I know there are places where alligators in captivity can be seen behaving in this way, but it was much more satisfying to come across this one in its natural environment.
I have seen my share of them in nature.
He liked you and wanted you to know. What an amazing video and I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it in person.
I swear there are times when I think I’ve actually made contact with one of these creatures. They seem stolid and impassive, but if you gaze into their eyes, there’s clearly a consciousness there. It’s fascinating.
I know that is possible with cats and dogs, why not with others in the animal kingdom.
Geez-Louise! What an experience, Linda! Glad you got these awesome captures, but equally glad you high-tailed it out of there.
Actually, I backed away, slowly, since I wanted to keep an eye on him until I was a bit farther away. It was a great experience, and one I suspect I’ll not come across again very soon. Of course, it is mating season, so it could happen the next time I’m in gator country.
I think we would all be rather embarrassed by the language if these animal utterances could be rendered in people language. They’d be a pretty salty mix of come-on to the ladies and (bleep)-offs to other males. I would imagine the alligator’s utterances would be on the level of the average New York construction worker’s when confronted with some poor woman who has to walk the gauntlet past the site. I can also see why Walt Kelly thought alligators should smoke seegars.
I suppose we could use your construction worker analogy, but on the other hand, most of the guys I’ve known who were given to bellowing and inflating themselves were in corner offices or the local Starbuck’s.
Of course I thought of Walt Kelly when my possums showed up, but I’d not thought of Albert after my encounter with the alligator. I just pulled out Ten Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Years with Pogo, and I’d forgotten how sharp the humor is. The book has a running commentary about the strip’s history from Kelly himself. I’m going to have to reacquaint myself with some of the minor characters.
That’s incredible Linda! I’ve so wanted to see this behaviour and you’ve delivered.. hurray! ~I’ve shared a link on twitter.
Of course you raised another of those questions I’d never asked myself: are there alligators in New Zealand? Apart from the zoo, the answer’s ‘no.’ But in the process of answering my own question, I came across the Taniwha, and that story’s pretty interesting all on its own.
Thanks Linda, that’s interesting! Seems we had our very own crocodile in our province of Otago. Through twitter I know the palaeobotanist who found the bone it was first identified from. The local croc features at the start of this article: https://www.canterburymuseum.com/discover/online-exhibitions-2/ancient-new-zealand-squawkzilla-and-the-giants/st-bathans/
Very interesting. I noticed the mention of osteoderms in the article you linked. The common name for those here is ‘scutes.’ You can find a bit of explanation of their function and a couple of photos in one of my older posts from the Louisiana bayous.
“solar cells” .. love it!
I just noticed that there’s a scute included in the third photo in the article. It looks like their architecture hasn’t changed much!
Next time Linda, take a heavy bottomed saucepan with you and teach the alligator a lesson he won’t easily forget..
Well, this critter didn’t really need to be taught a lesson, since he wasn’t doing anything but hanging out, living his best alligator life. On the other hand, there’s just one thing wrong with discouraging one of these creatures with a saucepan; you’d have to be close enough to make contact with that nose, and I don’t foresee ever being that close — at least, not on purpose.
He sounds as if he is draining the pond
You’re right! It’s pretty darned close to the sound of a bathtub draining, but on steroids.
Brilliant! How lucky you were to see this … and to get away safely. Great photos!
Honestly, I see so many alligators I’ve mostly stopped even taking photos of them, unless there’s something truly unusual about their appearance. This time, it was ‘unusual’ behavior that captivated me: usual for the alligator, but certainly not for this human observer.
This is really fascinating,Linda. I had no idea! I have few animal freak outs — snakes being the major one — but alligators and crocs are two others (maybe it goes back to Peter Pan trauma!). Twelve feet would be too close! Twelve miles would be too close! Glad you both got great photos — and hit the road!
Maybe we should start small, and let you hold a baby alligator. Busloads of kids come down to the refuge and visit the Discovery Center where they do all sort of exciting things, including coming nose to nose with alligators only a foot or so long. By the time it’s all over, even kids who were afraid to get off the bus are having a high time.
We all have our dislikes, of course. I’m not exactly afraid of spiders, but I hate walking face-first into a huge web strung across a trail. As for fear, I’m more nervous around my neighbor’s pit bull than I am around alligators.
Well, I’m with you on the pit bulls! An alligator a foot long is a big difference!
The babies are cute as can be.
Yikes! An alligator, bellowing or not, would scare me off at once. I didn’t realize they were so loud!
The strength of their bellow increases with size, so if you hear a really loud one, you can be sure it’s one of the big boys. Most of the time, they’re quiet as can be; they mostly lurk in the water or sun themselves on a bank, and in winter, they’re as concerned with catching a few rays to warm themselves as anything. I’ve watched them open one eye to check me out, and then go back to dozing. They’re great fun to watch.
Fun to watch….from a distance!
Exactly. I’d never have moved this close to a gator had I not been above it on a boardwalk with railings.
Whoa! That was quite the experience! I’m glad you didn’t try bellowing back (although it reminded me of the times that Mike has bleated back at sheep that he was photographing. Ha!).
Isn’t it funny how we’ll do that? I’ll cluck at chickens, or moo at cows, and I’m always ready to have a conversation with a mallard — but bellowing isn’t really my style!
Wow!! You’re brave to have stayed and taken photos, I would have run away! LOL!
I’ll wander among the critters without much anxiety at all, but there are places where I’d never kayak, and I sure wouldn’t do the in-the-water boat work that some of the guys do. Every year we spot a few gators cruising through the marinas, and until the things are caught and taken off to their new homes, everyone’s cautious. The biggest one I ever saw was about fourteen feet long, and it took months to capture it at a local marina. Finally, they brought in a couple of Cajuns who were swamp savvy; they got the thing, pulled it up on land, and duct-taped its snout. They flipped it on its back, and while we waited for Parks and Wildlife to come claim it, we all got to rub its belly. They like that!
Rub its belly oh my gosh!!!! Although the image is quite fun in my head! Glad to hear there’s a way to soothe an alligator if I ever confront one although I think I’ll just leave that to the pros!
That’s a good move. After all, before you can rub that belly, you need to duct tape the snout and flip it on its back — and that’s not so easy!
Have you ever seen the video where the cat chases away the alligator? Made me laugh.
I have seen that! Everyone in the world roots for that cat!
I have never heard one bellow. I generally visit gator country in the winter when they are just laying around sunning.
I hear plenty of grunting when I’m in the refuges, but I’ve only heard two or three bellowing in the past. Down at the refuges, they may have sorted out the pecking order well enough that there’s not a lot of vocal competition. I’ll say this — the real thing is even more impressive than any video.
I knew that alligators bellowed, but I’ve never heard it before…thanks for that video! I do like to see gators, but only from a safe distance. They can move fast when they want to!
You’re right that they can move fast. Usually, the speedy ones I see are heading down a bank into the water; they’re no more interested in a confrontation than I am. Do you have them in your area? I suspect you see plenty when you visit Florida.
Yes, I think I prefer my alligators, or any other crocodilian for that matter at a little greater distance. That’s quite a performance the male puts on to attract a mate. All I had to do when I first met Miriam was to take her for lunch, with no danger for either of us to become lunch! The rest is history as they say.
Every species has its ways. I was lucky enough to capture the courting ritual and mating of Black-necked Stilts: as elegant as the alligator’s thrashing is rowdy. Clearly, you and Miriam are on the Stilt end of the courting spectrum!
Ok, count me intimidated.
Of course, he could have been saying, “Hey Linda, long time no see!”
On the other hand, he might have been vibing to this song. I hear it’s still high on the Swampland Top 100!
I can be a little slow sometimes, but I’d never consider petting an alligator, or swimming at night in a bayou. Discretion, valor, and all that!
How cool was that! Are you sure he didn’t have his eye on you?
No, I’m not sure. I can’t fathom much about the reptilian brain, but I’m pretty sure that it’s usually asking, “Would that be good to eat? Could I grab it? Would it be worth the effort?”
Goodness! That is quite an experience! That’s the first time I’ve seen a gater bellowing, riveting stuff, I’d have high-tailed it out of there too.
It’s common to hear them grunting out in the marshes and bayous, and I suppose people who spend more time there hear them bellowing frequently during mating season. But I’d only heard their bellows a couple of times before this; it was great to get to see this fellow put on the whole show.