Brazos Bend State Park - Alligator Nest
Alligators breed once a year. Courtship begins in early spring and reaches a peak during May. Males bellow in choruses or chain reactions to advertise their prowess and attract potential mates, but females make the final choice.
During courtship, male alligators can be very aggressive toward other males or toward humans. Mated pairs are frequently seen swimming or sunning together by mid-May; the male is the larger of the two. By the end of June, the pair separates and the female assumes her exclusive duties of nest building and guarding.
An alligator nest is a pile of rotting grass, other vegetation and mud. The pile is 3 1/2 to 6 feet across and 1 to 2 feet high, sitting in a site 13 to 18 feet across that has been cleared of vegetation by the female. By the first week in July, she lays a clutch of 20 to 70 cylindrical eggs. The eggs are 3 to 3 1/2 inches long, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and are buried 3 to 14 inches deep in the nests. Incubation takes about 65 days.
The female alligator stays close to guard the eggs from raiding raccoons, skunks and opossums. After the eggs hatch in late summer, the pod of baby alligators will stay together through their first winter and often through their second winter as well. The mother alligator stays close to her pod of babies, protecting them from male alligators, herons and humans.
Baby alligators must feed themselves. They eat minnows crayfish, snails, insects and tadpoles. They grow 9 to 10 inches each year for the first five years. As they mature, their diet expands to include fish, turtles, snakes, frogs, waterfowl, wading birds, raccoons, carrion and just about anything they can catch. By six years of age, they are mature and ready to breed.
WARNING: A female alligator will protect her family. Never approach a pile of rotting grass. Never approach a pod of baby alligators.