Animal Diaries Archive
19 October 2007
Not too many people can boast that they work their dream job, or for that matter have a job that is never boring or the same as the day before. With so many animals to choose from to rove in my day, I tend to lean towards the reptiles; maybe it's because of the range of different reactions I receive from guests, or the excited squeal a child gives when you tell them they can touch. One thing for sure is that I am a sucker for the American Alligator, after 65 million years of existence this reptile has remained virtually unchanged, making it one of our modern day dinosaurs. Gators can be found in the United States and eastern China, sharing marshes, swamps and lakes with many other species including us.
It is a frequent occurrence that people get an Alligator and other Crocodilian species confused, these differences can be defined by gators having a short, blunt and rounded snout, young gators, hatchlings, have bright yellow patterns on a black body, when mature they lose that bright yellow to be a greyish black colour. When first born a hatchling is approximately 17cm and will continue to grow to an average of 11 - 13 feet and in a record case a whopping 19 feet 2 inches. Fortunately the American Alligator is not considered to be a man-eater because of its natural fear of man, if left alone, they would much rather stay away than attack. In the state of Florida where the main population can be found, it is illegal to feed Alligators as they then associate humans with food, and that is never going to be a good combination. Alligators are more than capable of looking after and feeding themselves, after all they have been around longer than us. Hatchlings will feed on snails, frogs, insects, and small fish, and as they grow they will look to feed upon larger prey like birds, small mammals, fish and even other young gators. Out in the wild young Alligators can look to mum for protection for at least the first 2 years of their life, good thing too as it is in this early period of their life that is the most crucial, with 80% or more falling prey to birds, racoons, otters and even other Alligators.
Here at Australia Zoo however we encourage a human meets reptile interaction, by taking our Alligators out to be handled and touched. This is beneficial for the Alligator to remain calm in the future for any medical checks or even general maintenance of their enclosure. Another way to ensure that things run smoother is that we incubate the eggs at a warmer temperature; this ensures that our Alligators are males, a cooler temperature would produce females, and if we mix girls and boys, well you can see that it wouldn't be long before the birds and the bees took over.
So with everything in order and with more baby boys on the way it is more than a job to get those little guys out and meeting you, its a privilege. Next time you are at the zoo don't run for the hills when you see a rover with an Alligator, take the chance to meet an often misunderstood reptile and be a part of his learning experience.
Till then take care. Gators Rule!
Our Amazing American Alligators
Crocodilians are grouped into one of three families. Crocodylidae, Alligatoridae and Gavialidae. The American alligator belongs to the sub family Alligatorinae ...more