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.
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.