Thursday, November 29, 2007

Alligator Dens

While posting trail markers on old logging roads that finger out into Four Holes Swamp, we discovered many more alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) dens than we knew existed.

According to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, "Sometimes, the alligator may expand its gator hole by digging beneath an overhanging bank to create a hidden den. After tunneling as far as 20 feet, it enlarges the end, making a chamber with a ceiling high enough above water level to permit breathing. This is not the alligator's nest but merely a way for the reptile to survive the dry season and winters. "

The muddy water image shows a depression formed when the area was scooped out to form the logging access road. Obviously, a gator was within the water and active enough to stir up the sediment as the pool is not connected to any moving water. "During the dry season, and particularly during extended droughts, gator holes provide vital water for fish, insects, crustaceans, snakes, turtles, birds, and other animals in addition to the alligator itself." (USFWS)

Another image shows a den dug into the bank of the road ditch along with an image of Mike Dawson, sanctuary manager, showing the size and water level of a den. The final image shows an old nest site where a female alligator had piled up leaves, needles and other debris against a pine tree and later ripped it open upon hearing the croaks of her hatching young. Surprisingly, the sex of the hatchlings is determined by the average egg incubation temperature (85 degrees F only females; 89 degrees F equal numbers of healthy male and female hatchlings; 91 degrees F only males) and not chromosomes.

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