As the warm weather picks up and spring takes over winter chills, alligators are back on our Lowcountry radar.
Coming out of their dens to warm up, alligators will soon be ready for mating season. You should not approach, antagonize, feed or really interact in any way with an alligator, should you spot one, but they could be especially dangerous during mating season. If you spot one, feel free to admire them from a distance (or go back inside and lock the doors).
Here are a few things to know as mating season approaches:
1. Alligators date before they commit to kids
Gators will typically court throughout April and May before breeding at the end of May or the beginning of June, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources. The female will lay 30 to 50 eggs in June and July, which will hatch usually in late August or early September.
2. Their dating rituals are complicated
Alligators will use a “variety of vocalizations, head-slapping on the water’s surface, body posturing, snout and back rubbing, bubble blowing, and pheromone (scent) signals,” to attract a mate during courting, according to the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Laboratory.
3. Mom takes her job seriously
For the first year or so of an alligator’s life, its mother will defend and stay near her hatchlings, according to SCDNR. Gradually, the mother will teach her hatchlings how to care for themselves. You should never approach a mother alligator and her babies.
4. They’re sort of like dogs
When it starts to get hot enough outside for alligators to bask in the sun, they will sometimes lie with their mouths wide open when they get a bit too warm, according to the University of Georgia lab. This is similar to a dog panting to cool off on a hot day. Once it starts to get warm out, it’s nearly time to start courting.
5. Alligators can keep having babies until they’re 70 years old
According to a 2017 study, the American alligator can keep reproducing into their 60s and 70s. “We’re seeing old animals putting out the same number of viable eggs as they did 35 years ago,” one of the researchers and one of the grandfathers of South Carolina alligator research Phil Wilkinson said. I like to think of them as being like a big old oak tree — they drop acorns every so often when the weather’s right, and then one day they don’t, and that’s the end of it.”