A mysterious energy might surprise you on your next trip to the Aquarium. It will feel as if something is watching you. Studying you. Maybe even – sizing you up.
One dozen alligators, with coal-black eyes, will silently patrol the waters in front of a Cajun shack in the new Alligator Bayou exhibit. It may be a chilling scene for many, but Dave Collins, the Aquarium’s curator of forests, believes guests will come away with a new appreciation for these animals after viewing this gator-filled swamp. “There are many layers to an alligator’s personality. Most people think of them as aggressive animals, but they have a strong maternal side which seems like a contradiction." American Alligators, like those you’ll meet at the Aquarium, use vocalizations, headslaps, jaw claps, vibrations and even something called subaudible 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 steely gaze.
So even though this pool will look menacing, the waters should be pretty peaceful. Groups of mid-sized alligators don’t display as much territorial behavior when they are raised together. “With multiple animals, the individuals are more accepting of the others,” said Collins. “Two or three would definitely stake out territories.”
Visitors will also learn more about our cultural connections to wetlands. “In addition to being home to awe-inspiring animals like alligators, southern wetlands and bayous have always been tremendously rich environments for hunters and fishermen, filled with fish, crayfish and waterfowl,” said Collins. “And while people have always survived by eating directly from these areas, wetlands also serve larger purposes in nature as nurseries for countless species, as filters between land and sea, and as buffers against tropical storms and hurricanes.”