Behavior

Alligatorids are ectotherms ("cold-blooded" animals) and most often are seen basking on the shoreline to raise their body temperature. Sometimes they are seen sliding along the shoreline on their bellies, using their feet to push them through the mud and muck to the water. They also do the "high walk," which is somewhat similar to a lizard's walk; alligatorids, however, hold their legs more upright than straddled. Although they may look sedate much of the time, their short legs can give them quick acceleration for grasping a passing mammal.

Careful observers also see them floating at the surface of the water, where only their most dorsal surface and occa-

An American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) in southern Florida, USA, with its eyes just above the water. (Photo by Joe McDonald. Bruce Coleman, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

sionally just the nose and the tip of the head are exposed. Often, the animal actually is maintaining its internal temperature through this activity, either lying in the sun-heated upper layers of the water column to warm up or moving to shady, chillier waters to cool off. Their presence is made known when they begin to sweep their tails slowly and propel themselves gracefully forward. While they usually are motionless or swim slowly, they can make quick movements in the water. One noticeable trait is their ability to jettison almost vertically out of the water. This maneuver typically is accompanied by a quick chomp of the jaws around a startled bird or other prey item.

Alligatorids, including those in more temperate climates, do not hibernate. While temperatures in the southeastern United States and China can approach freezing in the winter, American and Chinese alligators remain active all year, though they are more subdued as temperatures dip and may even become dormant. To beat the cold, they move to shallow water and lie motionless, with just the nose poking into the cold air. Young alligators, on the other hand, may retreat to the mother's den to survive cold snaps. Juveniles and adults make use of burrows during winter months.

Alligatorids often live in groups and form dominance hierarchies, at least during the breeding season and sometimes all year. The highest-ranking individuals exert their dominance through various ritualized behaviors, which may include slaps of the head against the surface of the water, loud vocalizations, and open-mouthed charges.

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