Chattanooga, Tenn. (March 8, 2015) – A mysterious energy might surprise you on your next trip to the Tennessee Aquarium. It will feel as if something is watching you. Studying you. Looking closely, you realize there are 26 steely eyes sizing you up.
Thirteen American Alligators silently patrol the waters of the new Alligator Bayou exhibit. It may be a chilling scene for many, but Dave Collins believes Aquarium guests will come away with a deeper appreciation for these animals after viewing this gator-filled swamp. “There are many layers to an alligator’s personality,” said Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests. “Most people think of them as aggressive animals, but they have a strong maternal side which seems like a contradiction. They carefully tend to their young for long periods of time with a lot of communication between the mother and young.”
American Alligators, like the youthful, all male group guests will meet at the Aquarium, use vocalizations, headslaps, jaw claps, vibrations and even something called sub-audible vibrations to stake out territory, find a mate, or simply to say, “Hey, I’m over here!”
These complex behaviors help reveal something about the reptilian brain behind the gator’s unblinking gaze. Alligator experts will appear from a Cajun shack in the reimagined exhibit at different times each day to feed the somewhat voracious reptiles. At the same time, they will satisfy the hunger for more information about these somewhat mysterious animals.
Guests may not realize, for example, that alligators have indeterminate growth. “Given adequate resources and opportunities to survive, these animals are long-lived and will continue to grow,” said Collins. “Historically American Alligators grew to lengths of more than 15 feet.” But, due to overhunting that virtually decimated gators in the United States prior to protection measures, huge individuals are rare in the wild today.
The American Alligator was listed as an endangered species in 1967 along with 78 other species including iconic animals like the Florida Everglade Kite, Florida Panther and the Whooping Crane that share similar habitat. While those three species remain endangered, alligator populations made a strong rebound. By 1987, they were taken off the endangered species list throughout their range. “In the case of the alligator, the habitat was still there,” said Collins. “Once the overhunting was curbed, alligator numbers began climbing.”
Guests will also learn more about our cultural connections to wetlands and meet other creatures that depend upon these swampy ecosystems. A new presentation station will give guests more opportunities to come in close contact with many wetland creatures. This new area is designed with multiple surfaces and room for the animals to move around. It’s the perfect place to observe a downy-soft owl or North America’s only marsupial – the Virginia Opossum. “Our programs are designed to allow these animals to showcase their natural abilities and unique behaviors,” said Collins. “We’re especially excited to offer members, who can visit as often as they want, such a big variety of programs throughout the year.”
Guests are encouraged to download the free Tennessee Aquarium app to help maximize their time and take advantage of all of the new programming offered each day. The app is available in the iTunes Store and Google Play.
Get up close to the toothy residents of Alligator Bayou by watching this preview video: http://youtu.be/TxtUdTtPhF8
American Alligator facts:
- According to researchers at Florida State University, the bite force of a 13-foot American Alligator is more than 2,900 pounds per square inch. However, the muscles that open a gator’s mouth are relatively weak. So holding the powerful jaws shut is much easier than trying to keep them from biting down.
- Alligators have 75 to 80 teeth at one time. As they wear down, they are replaced. One alligator may replace all of its teeth up to 50 times. That’s as many as 4,000 teeth during its lifetime.
- Most reptiles have 3-chambered hearts, but the heart of alligators (and all crocodilians) has four chambers, a trait shared with mammals and birds.
- Alligators are ectothermic. They must rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. To warm up, they bask in the sun or move into warmer water. Gators prefer summer temperatures and become dormant if the temperature drops below 55 degrees F.