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American Alligators Establish Long-Term Pair Bonds – Research Update

Today’s update, while concerning an animal not suited as a pet (the American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis) will I’m sure will be of interest to all who keep or study reptiles.  Scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Lab, working with alligators in Louisiana’s Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge, were surprised to find a high degree of mate fidelity in their study population.

Remaining Faithful Despite Choices

Writing in the October, 2009 issue of Molecular Ecology, the researchers explained that 70% of the female alligators they studied over a 10 year period mated with the same male each year.  This is the first time such behavior has been documented in any Crocodilian, and is rendered even more interesting by the fact that the refuge supports a very dense population of alligators, and females freely move through the territories of a great many males.

A Look Back in Time

Crocodilians are the sole surviving reptiles classified as Archosaurs, a group that includes the dinosaurs and which gave rise to the birds (some taxonomists argue that alligators are closely related to birds, and should be removed from the Class Reptilia).  It is hoped that this newly discovered alligator mating behavior will reveal something about the mating strategies of dinosaurs and the ancestors of modern day birds.

Working With Crocodilians

Crocodilians make poor pets, but, as you see from the accompanying photos, they can be exciting to work with in zoos (please be in touch if you’re considering a career in herpetology).

A pair of Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) under my care at the Bronx Zoo produced young together over a period spanning 40 years (the photo shows some of the “little ones” rushing to a meal) – but, unlike the Louisiana gators, they were housed together, without others of their kind, and so had little choice!

Further Reading

To read about how other research with alligators is granting us a peek at how dinosaurs may have lived, please see this piece.


About Frank Indiviglio

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Being born with a deep interest in animals might seem unfortunate for a native Bronxite , but my family encouraged my interest and the menagerie that sprung from it. Jobs with pet stores and importers had me caring for a fantastic assortment of reptiles and amphibians. After a detour as a lawyer, I was hired as a Bronx Zoo animal keeper and was soon caring for gharials, goliath frogs, king cobras and everything in-between. Research has taken me in pursuit of anacondas, Orinoco crocodiles and other animals in locales ranging from Venezuela’s llanos to Tortuguero’s beaches. Now, after 20+ years with the Bronx Zoo, I am a consultant for several zoos and museums. I have spent time in Japan, and often exchange ideas with zoologists there. I have written books on salamanders, geckos and other “herps”, discussed reptile-keeping on television and presented papers at conferences. A Master’s Degree in biology has led to teaching opportunities. My work puts me in contact with thousands of hobbyists keeping an array of pets. Without fail, I have learned much from them and hope, dear readers, that you will be generous in sharing your thoughts on this blog and web site. For a complete biography of my experience click here.
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