This month you more likely to see alligators on St. Simons Island.
But they can be elusive during the heat of summer and the cold of winter. Alligators will go into a semi-hibernation period during the coldest months of the year. They emerge from their dens in the spring, especially in April, when the days are warmer. They spread out on the banks of lagoons, soaking up the sun’s warmth. This month, alligators are busy starting their courtships in hopes of finding a mate.
These reptiles are ectothermic (cold blooded).
Many of their bodily functions depend on seasonal heat and cold. Digestion and anabolic activity are all reliant on their ability to absorb and maintain body heat. If the animal has absorbed too much heat in the middle of summer, they will dive to the bottom of the lakes, burrow into the mud and slow their heart rate, so as to not burn up the oxygen in their system. Alligators often stay submerged for long periods of time, and stay underwater for over an hour.
An apex predator, the alligator’s diet consists of fish, birds and turtles. However, they are scavengers and will eat anything they can find, even something dead and decaying! Because alligators have high levels of stomach acid, they can eat food that other animals, such as humans, find fouled or contaminated. This extraordinary adaptation is a critical aspect of survival for these creatures.
Being cold blooded, alligators do not have to eat as much as warm-blooded animals.
Depending on their environment’s temperature, they can go long periods without eating. However, they are also capable of taking down large animals of prey. Visitors or people unfamiliar with the alligator species should proceed with caution, because they can be very dangerous to humans.
For the first year or so of an alligator’s life, momma gators will be especially protective of their babies. If you see a young alligator sunning itself this month, do not approach it. There is a good chance that its mother is close by.
The American Alligator is a precious natural resource that at one time was considered rare and endangered. Due to conservation efforts and education of the humans who share the same ecosystem and environment, alligators’ numbers continue to rise.
By Anthony R. Savarese, Reel Carolina