Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, nesting, hatchling


Historically, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) ranged through southern and much of eastern Arkansas. By the early 1900s, alligator populations had declined due to unregulated hunting, commercial exploitation, and habitat loss. In 1961, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) established protection of this species, and in 1967 the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the alligator as an endangered species. The AGFC conducted a restocking program from 1972-1984, and the species made a full recovery in Arkansas. Still, little is known about reproductive biology in the state. We observed an alligator nest near Arkadelphia, Clark Co., the mound of which was 1.6 m long, 1.3 m across, and 43-56 cm in height. Because the nest had not hatched by a date late for the species, we opened the nest because some peeping by live hatchlings could be heard. The nest contained 33 eggs, of which 12 hatched the rest were unfertile or died early. We observed behaviors of baby alligators at the time of hatching from a wild nest, and the development of feeding behaviors while maintained in lab. Babies were aggressive and bit debris and each other while hatching, apparently to aid in their exit from the egg. Aggressive behaviors subsided, and young took crickets, earthworms, and shiners as food. After about 3 days, individuals who both grabbed parts of a shiner or earthworm began the spin behaviors to tear apart food items.