Which Parent Determines the Sex of Alligator Babies when the Eggs are Laid?

This is sort of strange. Alligators, like many other reptiles, don’t have sex chromosomes.

As a result, gender isn’t determined by the genes of the parents. Instead, whether Mama gator will be blessed with a baby girl or boy is completely decided by temperature.

When it’s egg-laying time, the female finds a nice large area on the bank of her swamp, and digs a hole. She deposits her eggs, up to fifty, in the hole, and proceeds to cover them with leaf debris and mud, making a nest as large as six feet wide and three feet high.

The soil and composting leaves provide the warmth the eggs need to mature. During the two-month incubation period, the mother stays in nearby waters to guard the nest.

Gender is determined during the second and third week of incubation. If the eggs are incubated at 86° F or below, the eggs will produce only females. If the eggs are incubated during this same period at 93° F or above, the offspring will be all male. If the eggs simmer at a more moderate 88°F, as most nests do, there will be a mix of both male and female babies.

At the end of incubation, the first mature alligator babies begin to make a barking noise from inside their shells. Barking alligators can be heard up to fifteen yards away, and this signals to Mom that it’s hatching time.

The mother’s presence is crucial, as she is the one who uncovers the eggs from their buried home. If the mother isn’t available or fails to hear the barking, the offspring can’t hatch and will die.

No matter what gender emerges, mother alligators are very protective.

For the first two years of life, babies travel with Mom, sometimes on her back or in her mouth, and she aggressively guards them from predators such as otters, turtles, skunks, raccoons, and even other alligators.

About Karen Hill

Karen Hill is a freelance writer, editor, and columnist. Born in New York, her work has appeared in the Examiner, Yahoo News, Buzzfeed, among others.

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