Exploring Baby Alligator Development and Behavior Through Facts, Pictures and FAQs
In terms of evolution members of the crocodilian family, including alligators have changed very little in the past 80 – 150 million years. These fantastic reptiles are not dinosaurs, but were around when the dinosaurs roamed the planet. Their first ancestors (goniopholididae) appeared around 250 million years ago.
They survived the cataclysm that destroyed the reptilian era around the globe, and opened the door to the age of mammals and primates. You only need to look at a baby alligator for a second or two to recognise their heritage. Everything about them seem, tempered, practiced, fine tuned and ancient. And they are, ancient and evolved. But what makes them so special?
Here are some awesome baby alligator facts, as well as some pictures and answers to some of the most frequently asked questions!
7 Baby Alligator Facts
Baby Alligators Are Called Hatchlings
Baby alligators start their lives as eggs and once ready they leave their shell and are known as ‘hatchlings‘. Mother alligators are called ‘cows‘ and male alligators are called ‘bulls‘.
Along with their mothers, baby alligators are collectively known as a ‘pod‘. Groups of alligators of any age are collectively know as a ‘congregation‘, and a group of crocodiles is sometimes called the same.
A group of baby alligators grow up in a ‘nest‘. The female alligator builds the nest for her eggs above ground usually along the banks of ponds or marshland. There will usually be around 30-40 eggs in a nest on average, between 15-50 as a range. Chinese Alligators tend to lay less eggs.
The eggs in a nest are collectively known as a ‘clutch‘. Young alligators that make it to their first year are called ‘yearlings‘, then subadults, and finally when they reach sexual maturity they are adults.
Baby Alligators Have Lots Of Teeth
Baby alligators are born with between 60 to 80 teeth! One of these teeth is incredibly important as it helps them to breach their egg shell when the times comes. This is known as the ‘egg tooth’, and they lose this tooth shortly after they hatch.
Unlike their other teeth, the egg tooth or ‘caruncle‘ is located on the alligator’s nose. Crocodiles and some birds also have a similar egg tooth when they hatch.
As they grow, alligators maintain a set of 80 conical shaped teeth, and any lost teeth are constantly being replaced. They don’t have any molars for grinding food, so they tend to puncture with the teeth they have, and swallow whole prey.
An alligator may grow as many as 2000 teeth, or even more across their whole lifespan!
Alligator Hatchlings Start Vocalizing Before They Even Hatch
Baby alligators are known to start vocalizing before they have even hatched from their eggs. Around the time that they are ready to start breaking free from their egg, they start to emit a high-pitched noise, similar to what you would hear from a baby puppy or guinea pig. This sound alerts the alligator cow that the young is on their way, and they continue the sound even after they hatch.
Through a combination of this high-pitched whine, and a separate grunting noise hatchlings make, they can communicate when they are hungry, anxious or cold to their mother.
Baby Alligators Are Very Fast, But Not For Long
Although Alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed. Baby alligators can reach upward of 15 mph, and when they mature, they can exceed 30 miles per hour. They can’t maintain this for long though. It could more properly be classified as a short fast lunge rather than a dash.
Baby alligators are even faster in the water than they are on land, and they can maintain their speed in water for longer. They don’t use as much energy in the water as they do on land, and so can maintain their speed for longer.
Temperature Can Determine The Gender Of A Hatchling
Depending on the temperature during the first ten days of the incubation period, either male or female alligators will hatch from the egg.
If the eggs are incubated over 91-93 °F (34 °C), the embryo develops normally as a male; temperatures below 86 °F (30 °C) normally result in female embryos. Between these temperatures, both sexes are produced, but females more often than males. The natural sex ratio at hatching is five females to one male.
The eggs in an alligator nest hatch around two months following their deposit, producing hatchlings about 6 to 8 inches long (15-20 centimetres).
Baby Alligators Can Swim As Soon As They Are Born
As soon as a baby alligator reaches the water, it can swim. This natural ability is a sure sign of millions of years of evolution and instinct. Not only can they swim immediately, but they can also hold their breath for long amounts of time.
As they grow, alligators can stay submerged holding their breath for up to a whole 24 hours, in the right conditions. On average it is much less than this, usually a few hours. They can’t breathe underwater, but they don’t need to. Often, the only thing you will see of an alligator is the eyes on the top of their head, the remainder is submerged.
Unlike Most Reptiles, Mothers Care For Their Baby Alligators
It’s rare for reptile species to have protective paternal instincts for their offspring, but alligators and crocodile species are one of the rare exceptions that do. females are fiercely protective of their young.
A mother alligator cow will stay with her young for up to two years, making sure they are fed and safe. They grow about a foot in size every year, and during the first two years they pick up skills and the ability to adequately feed themselves. They will still be vulnerable to some predators at this stage though, until they are around 4 years old.
Chinese Alligators are smaller than American Alligators, and there are not many estimated to be left in the wild.
Baby Alligator FAQs
What Is The Lifespan Of A Baby Alligator?
The first few years of an alligators life can be tough. In fact in some areas, up to 4 out of every 5 alligators don’t make it to maturity.
The lifespan of an alligator is determined by many factors, such as diet, habitat, and whether or not they are in captivity. In the wild, alligators have much to contend with, including habitation loss from human encroachment. The young are also at risk from predators.
For those that are lucky enough to make it through the early hatchling and adolescent years, the average lifespan for an alligator is between 35 to 50 years.
How Many Baby Alligators Are Born In A Clutch?
The average alligator nest will hold a clutch of between 35-40 eggs, but they don’t all hatch. Around two thirds (22-24) will hatch and of those that do, only around 40% (9-10) will make it to their first year. Not all those that reach a year will make it to adulthood either.
They are at their most vulnerable until they reach around the age of four. If they make it to four, they are big and strong enough to generally fend off any predator other than humans and other gators.
Do Baby Alligator Eyes Glow In The Dark?
The eyes of a large Alligator will glow red and those of a smaller one will glow green when a light is shined on them. This fact can be used to find alligators in the dark. They have a similar property in the eye that cats have, which gives them exceptional vision in low light.
How Quick Do Baby Alligators Grow?
Alligator hatchlings average between 6 to 8 inches in length. During their hatchling stage and egg stage, they are at their most vulnerable to predation.
American alligators grow around 1 foot per year until they reach about the age of 4. At this stage they are generally safe from attack by predators. They are still vulnerable to humans and other alligators, but threats from competing species are, for the most part, a thing of the past.
Males grow to be larger than females, at around 11 – 12 feet and a weight over 500 -550 lbs. Females average a length of around 8 feet and are lighter, around 200 lbs.
Chinese alligators are only about half as big, reaching about 5-7 ft in adulthood. While there are less natural predators of the wild Chinese alligator, their eggs are vulnerable to some species of bird and fish.
What Do Baby Alligators Eat?
Alligators are nocturnal and feed primarily at night. Baby alligators are not equipped to dine on the some of the prey that they will eat later on as adults. For a start, they are much smaller, and their tongues don’t move very much as they do later in life.
Younger alligators eat insects, shrimps, snails, small fish, tadpoles and frogs. Adult alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, other reptiles and mammals. Alligators swallow their prey whole. Their conical teeth are used for catching the prey, not tearing it apart.
A baby alligator can eat up to between a fifth and a quarter of their body weight in a single meal!
Where Do Baby Alligators Live?
Baby alligators start their life out as eggs, then hatchlings, living in a nest prepared by their mothers. These nests are usually along rivers, lakes and marshes.
Large male Alligators are solitary, territorial reptiles. Smaller Alligators can often be found in large numbers in close proximity to each other.
In terms of geography, Alligators live in two areas around the world. In North America and in China.
Alligators don’t really like to travel much, so their range stays fairly regular over time. Climate change and environmental pressures may cause them to expand or relocate their ranges eventually, depending on the impact to their habitat.
What Are The Natural Predators Of Baby Alligators?
It’s easy to think that as apex predators at the top of the food chain that they don’t have to worry about attack. But young alligators are often the victim of predators. This is not without irony, as some predators of baby alligators would turn out to be their prey in adulthood. Predators of baby alligators include: