Final: The Intrepid American Alligator-Final Post-Class Posting

This discussion topic submitted by Jake "d Snake" Saylor (Jagged2001@AOL.com) at 9:24 pm on 7/26/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

This alligator "Splits the Class" in the Everglades

Final: The Intrepid American Alligator - Final Post-Class Posting!

Outline...The American Alligator
I. Introduction
-habitat and distribution: Essentially Southeastern United States with large populations found in Florida, Louisiana, and Georgia
-appearance: Heavily armored elongated body and snout. Nostrils located on end of snout to allow breathing while body is mostly submerged
-alligators vs. other crocodilians of the USA (salinity tolerance issues included) American Crocodile limited to brackish swamps of the Key West area
-evolutionary history - descended from "archosaurs" of the Triassic to Cretaceous periods. One of 21 species still alive today, surviving relatively unchanged for at least the last 65 million years!

II. Predator/Prey Relationships
-size/age dependent
juveniles...snails, frogs, insects, small fish, etc.
maturing gators...fish, turtles, snakes, waterfowl, smaller and larger mammals
-other alternative considerations? Carrion and cannibalism quite prevalent, and even preferable to hunting? Less risk of getting hurt when eating dead prey or juvenile gators.

III. Tactical Strategy
-Opportunistic predators with an "old-standby" ambush style attack that maximizes their success potential with a short strike following some slow-moving body positioning which has contributed to their fame. Also, land speed is generally enough to outrun a human for short distances. Strikes for large and medium prey may lead to alligators dragging them into deeper water, and a slow drowning before feeding begins. To tear meat away from the carcass, alligators bite and the "barrel roll" until large sections tear away from the body, which the alligator will swallow whole since they are specialized carnivores. Sometimes they will also just guard their food, and wait for it to rot before feeding. Tasty huh?

IV. Reproduction
-Size/age dependent...usually about 6 feet long and 10-12 years, but may be much shorter given ideal growth and developmental conditions
-April-May courtship with unusual reptilian roars and vibrations
-late June-July usually 20 to 60 eggs laid in carefully constructed and guarded mounds by female. Female alligators make VERY caring and involved parents, guarding against everything from temperature, raccoons, and even the Everglade's park ranger "Frank"
-hatchlings in August-September, nesting incubation temperature variation determines males vs. females

V. Importance and Endangerment
-keystone species of many ecosystems?
-listed as a "threatened species" by government due to habitat destruction, leather and meat harvesting, as well as resemblance to the endangered American crocodile
1.1940's - beginning of population decline
2.40's and 50's the imposition of hunting restrictions slows their decline
3.50's and 60's - illegal poaching leads to further decline in population numbers
4.70's tougher poaching laws and lack of the formerly booming retail market, virtually eliminates large scale poaching
5.1974 to present shows a progressive increase in population numbers
-controlled wild harvesting issue. Satisfies a limited market for alligator products and may help control potential large-scale poaching by "flooding the market" and keeping demand and prices down.

References...
1) http://gnv.ifas.ufl.edu/www/agator/htm/aligator.htm
2) http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/cnhc.html
3) http://magicnet.net/~mgodwin/
4) "Crocodiles, Alligators and Caimans, Gavial." Macmillan Illustrated Animal
Encyclopedia. 1984, pp.414 - 415.
5) "Reptiles and Amphibians." Reader's Digest: North American Wildlife. 1982,
pp.158-160


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