It’s no secret that female alligators are protective of their eggs and for a time, protective of their young. But what happens to baby gators after Mama, takes off? Baby alligators can’t depend on their elders for a helping hand. In fact, young gators are a perfect bite to eat for large gator adults.
Now, a new study finds that between 6 percent and 7 percent of young alligators fall victim to the cruel fate of cannibalism. On the other hand, a little gator-on-gator cannibalism may help keep their populations stable. “Even the seemingly low rate of juvenile mortality attributed to cannibalism reported here may be an important factor in population regulation,” researchers from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wrote in June in the journal Herpatologica.
Once in the water, the young alligators tend to stay close to their mother and form social groups called pods. These pods offer the young some protection; however, it is their large and intimidating mother that provides most of their protection. When the young are in distress they emit calls that get her attention, and bring her to their aid. Few predators are bold enough to attempt to eat hatchlings when their mother is near.
Similar to crocodiles, baby alligators have to fend for themselves after Mom takes off and in some cases, even have to worry about their own mother grabbing-up her own offspring up as a quick snack.
What ever the case, if a new hatchling manages to survive and grow to full size, you can bet, that is one tough alligator.
Here’s a fun fact from myfwc.com:
About 1/3 of alligator nests are destroyed by predators (mainly raccoons) or flooding. The average clutch size of an alligator nest is 38. For nests that survive predators and flooding, an estimated 24 live hatchlings will emerge. Only 10 alligator hatchlings will live to one year. Of these yearlings, 8 will become subadults (reach 4 feet in length). The number of subadults that reach maturity (6 feet in length) is approximately 5. These estimates are for a growing alligator population. As a population matures (and has a higher percentage of large alligators), the survival rate would be expected to be lower, in part due to a higher rate of cannibalism.