Just two species of alligator remain from prehistoric times, on exactly opposite ends of the globe: the American alligator (A. mississipiensis) and the Chinese alligator (A. sinensis). Though many alligator species have gone by the evolutionary wayside, these two species’ antiquated, egg-laying ways are still working, despite constant development encroachment of their native habitats.
The mating rituals of alligators reflect the many millennia of their evolution. Late in spring, male alligators will become more forceful about establishing territory. Dominant males end up with the most territory and sometimes as many as a dozen maters a year. To get the attention of those females, males will slap their heads against the water and make echoing grunts. On other occasions, some groups of the species have large groups of males gathering to grunt in chorus. This is meant to attract females from many miles around. Once they get there, of course, it’s every man for himself.
At Gatorland Zoo outside Orlando, Florida, keepers report actual intimacy, though in no way monogamy: “They may touch and rub their bodies together, ‘talk’ to one another in bellows and grunts, and even blow bubbles in the water” as they float through the open water — always on the lookout for an interruption. The male alligator fertilizes the eggs inside the female.
The female alligator almost immediately goes ashore to find a secluded area to lay her eggs, as many as 50. She makes a bed of vegetative matter with her hind legs, lays her eggs in the center, then covers them liberally with more vegetation. Through mid-summer, the eggs will be kept warm by the gases produced by the rotting vegetation. In the wild, about one in five will survive.