The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile of North America. Adults may reach a maximum of 18 feet, though the average size is 13 feet for males and 10 feet for females. The larger males weigh as much as 500 pounds!
Among reptiles, the courtship and mating behaviors of the alligator are unique. During courtship, alligators use a variety of cues to communicate. Males make bellowing calls to attract females and announce their presence to other males. Different body postures and head slapping also convey social messages to other alligators. Other rituals include head and back rubbing among a pair of courting alligators. They also respond to chemical cues.
After mating, female alligators construct a large nest mound out of mud and vegetation. They will then dig out a chamber and deposit their eggs, which may number between 30-60. The females then cover the nest and return to the water, but will readily defend the nest site if necessary. As the eggs begin to hatch two months later, the baby alligators make distinct calls. The mothers will return to the nest and help excavate the eggs. They will also pick up and lightly break open unhatched eggs if necessary! Being very gentle, the mothers will carry the baby alligators to the water in their mouths. The babies remain with their mothers for the first year. These interesting parental care behaviors seen in alligators are very rare among reptiles or amphibians.
American alligators are listed as Federally Threatened on the Endangered Species Act. Though they were once listed as endangered, alligator populations have back from their near extinction during the 1980s. They are currently listed as threatened because of their similar appearance to the endangered American crocodile.
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