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Alligator Habitat by Katelyn and Blake

We're Katelyn and Blake and we're nuts about animals-especially reptiles! Katelyn is a junior volunteer at the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in our hometown of Jackson, Mississippi. She knows a lot about reptiles. Her work at the museum got us some special access to check out some of the animals there-including snakes, alligators, frogs, and turtles. Here's our question: What makes a good home for alligators?

What did we do?
First we spent some time at the museum's indoor and outdoor swamp exhibits. There we learned that alligators are cold blooded, which means they can't make their own body heat. We also read that the gators dig into the mud river banks for shelter, using the mud for a blanket of sorts. And they like to bask in the sun after eating, to aid digestion. The exhibit also showed that alligators are at the top of their food chain, they eat birds, turtles, and big fish, which in turn eat smaller fish, and these smaller fish eat micro-invertebrates. So even small micro-invertebrates are important to alligators!

We decided to take what we learned out in the field to observe some alligators. We made a chart to keep track of the number of gators we saw and headed to Australia Island, a spot further up the Mississippi River. We counted 12 alligators at our first location. We took notes and a water sample. At our second location, where the swamp was wider, we didn't see any gators. So we took a water sample and headed back to the museum.

What did we find out?
When we put the water samples under a microscope back at the museum, we saw lots of micro-invertebrates from the first location, where gators were plentiful. But in the water sample from our second location, we didn't see any micro-invertebrates. When we analyzed our notes, we noticed that location one had a lot going for it in gator terms. It had mud, it had plenty of fish (a good food source), and it was quieter than the second location. In the end, it was really clear that location one was a much better habitat for the alligators. See you later, alligators!

What can you do?
  • Head out to a local pond or stream with dip nets and buckets to see what kinds of invertebrates you can find. Be sure to have an adult with you at all times, and only wade into the water up to your knees. Have a pond life field guide handy to help you identify what you see.
  • The food chain for alligators includes turtles and birds, large fish, small fish, and microinvertebrates. Develop a similar food chain for a large animal you see at the zoo. What clues can you see in the animal's exhibit that tell you about what creatures to include in the chain?
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