Crocodilians are one of the few reptile taxa that exhibit parental care. In alligators, following nest construction, females stay nearby in a guard hole, and are known to defend their nests against predators or other intruders. At the end of the 60-day incubation period, alligator hatchlings will vocalize from within the egg, to signal to the mother that they are ready to hatch. At hatch, female alligators will dig open the nest mound to help the hatchlings exit the nest. Alligator mothers will stay with their hatchlings for the next one to two years, protecting them from larger alligators or other predators. In South Carolina, alligator nests hatch in late summer, and hatchlings over-winter with their mother in a nearby den, and emerge in spring. Hatchlings do not grow very much over winter, so the hatchlings in these pictures are from the 2015 nesting season.
Alligator Telemetry Research
The largest American alligator satellite telemetry-tracking study worldwide is lurking in South Carolina’s Lowcountry. The American alligator is an iconic species of the southeastern U.S., often described as a “living fossil” or “ferocious predator.” As is usually the case, however, there is much more to the story.
“Alligators are ecosystem engineers, capable of altering both habitat structure and function,” says doctoral graduate student Abby Lawson, conducting research with the USGS South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Clemson University. “They create depressions in wetlands, called ‘alligator holes,’ which increase habitat diversity and maintain wetland species richness.”