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Alligators and Caimans: Alligatoridae

Behavior And Reproduction

A favorite daytime activity for alligators and caimans is sunbathing, or basking, on shore. They can also heat up their bodies by floating in the warm, upper surface of the water. When they need to cool off, they simply sink to colder, deeper water. Some live where the weather is especially cold at times during the year, but none of them actually hibernate (HIGH-bur-nayt), or become inactive and enter a state of deep sleep. Instead, these species either lie still in shallow water and breathe through the nose, the only part of the body not underwater, or they retreat into winter burrows to wait for spring.

Alligators and caimans appear very restful when they are basking, but they are actually quite alert. With a quick swipe of the tail, a swift turn of the head with jaws open, or a speedy charge on their powerful legs, they can change from a quiet, peaceful-looking reptile to a dangerous predator. Alligators and caimans can move in several ways. In the water, they usually swim by slowly swaying the tail from side to side. On land, they may crawl along with the belly and tail dragging on the ground, or they can do a "high walk" and run as a lizard does with the body held above the ground.

Alligators and caimans often live in groups. They get along well during most of the year, but during the spring breeding season, the rules change. Adults begin slapping their heads on the water surface or charging one another with their mouths wide open, although they do not normally bite. By summer, the females begin to scrape together piles of leaves on which they lay their 12 to 60 eggs. The mother remains nearby, and when the babies hatch one or two months later, she helps them out of the nest and to the water. In some species, the temperature of the nest decides the sex of the babies. Cool temperatures produce all females, and warm temperatures produce all males. Temperatures in the middle turn out males and females.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesAlligators and Caimans: Alligatoridae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, American Alligator (alligator Mississippiensis): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CAIMANS ALLIGATORS AND PEOPLE