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This Isn’t a Jane Austen Novel, This is Nature

If you find yourself out on an airboat ride in the months of May or June, you may find yourself barging into an awkward situation. The American alligator begins courting its mates in April, and mating occurs in May and June. But, what does a female alligator look for in her mate, and how does he impress her? Like many animals, courtship rituals aren’t safe or simple.

Generally, the courting begins with some vocalization--back off Barry Manilow, your services aren’t required here; and to a courting alligator, you're a threat, not an entertainer. Male alligators are extremely territorial and aggressive during mating season--no intruder is safe. Lady alligators prefer the musical stylings of a deep, throaty bellow. Prior to the actual bellowing noise, male alligators produce a sub-audible vibration that creates an infrasonic signal. This signal causes the surrounding water to dance and splash upwards--a very impressive display for surrounding females.

Now that he has her attention, it’s time to show her how macho he is. Alligators perform a unique ritual of slapping their heads against the water. If he’s good looking, who cares if he’s smart, right? He may even complete some complex body poses and elevate his posture out of the water, holding the pose for as long as 30 minutes. Like in gymnastics, the dismount is crucial! The American alligator exits this pose with another head slap, possibly a jaw snap, and some growling. These performances are an important part of the social communication of adult alligators; it’s a social event, and it’s not uncommon for one male to perform for several females--think Muscle Beach in Venice, CA.

Like every gentleman, the American alligator has to take his lady out for a nice date. Since he’s already a snappy dresser, all he has to worry about is showing her a good time around the pond. She could care less about chocolates, roses, and candle-lit dinners--what this lady wants is for someone to accompany her for a swim. Mated pairs are often spotted swimming together or in circular motions around one another. For some added flirting, he’ll stop and blow her some bubbles. Eventually, they’ll become extremely affectionate, touching snouts, and making contact with one another. She’s classy, she makes him wait 6-8 weeks, a lengthy courtship in the animal kingdom. But to be honest, alligators are extremely promiscuous. Both males and females will take multiple partners, but the female will still only produce one clutch of eggs. Even with Maury’s help, there’s no telling who the fathers are.

Once mating is over, in late June or July, the alligators leave one another and the mother goes off to build her nest. In August and September, the mother alligator gets to see the product of all her dates and when daddy comes to visit, she’ll fight him to the death to make him leave.

For additional information on the American alligator, or to see one of these marvelous creatures on an airboat ride, visit Wild Florida today.