Alligator Hatchlings 

These photos were shot in September 2020 & 2022 in southeast Georgia. September is prime time for alligator hatchling season. I was there trying to follow some bird migration, and as I walked the path, I recognized the little ERP, ERP, ERP sounds these babies make. It took me a few minutes, but I found them fairly hidden, which is good for them.

Alligators are reptiles and share the same traits as one of our other favorite reptiles, and that is sea turtles. Here are some cool facts about both, starting with that cool sound they make.

1. Sea turtle hatchlings and alligator hatchlings both make sounds while they are still in the eggs. Studies have led scientists to believe that sea turtle hatchlings do this to signal each other that it is time to get out of the egg. Alligator hatchlings do this also. However, alligator mommas actually stay with their nests, while sea turtle mommas do not. When mom hears her alligator babies making that ERP ERP sound, she opens the nest up to allow them to come out. She will also stick around for 1-2 years to protect them as many other animals easily eat them. Sea turtle hatchlings are totally on their own and have the same problem with numerous predators eating them. One of the tricks to both species surviving for millions of years is survival in numbers. Female alligators deposit 32 to 46 eggs in a nest that momma attempts to protect. Sea turtles can deposit 2 to 3 times that per nest. Each momma sea turtle also nests 3-7 times per season which significantly increases the egg numbers. Remember, though; momma alligators attempt to protect the nest while sea turtle mommas do not. Both strategies have worked since both species have survived for so long.

2. Next up is sex determination. We humans have our sex determined by genetics. The temperature within the nest determines the sex of alligators and sea turtles (and other reptiles). It is called temperature-dependent sex determination or TSD. For alligators, warmer temperatures create more males. For sea turtles, warmer temps create more females. One way we are taught to remember this for sea turtles is, “Hot chicks and cool dudes.” So for alligators, it is “Hot dudes and cool chicks”

3. Alligators and sea turtles (also birds) have a temporary upturned tooth on the tip of their beak at hatching time. This is called an egg tooth or caruncle. Its only purpose is to help them cut and break open the egg. The egg tooth then fades away fast.

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