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Why Do Alligators Bellow? (What It Really Means)

Alligators bellow for three reasons: breeding, socialization, and territorial ownership. 

Alligator Bellowing
Alligator Bellowing

Alligators bellow pretty much every year. However, the bellowing is much more active during the mating season. The sound that an alligator makes is in direct proportion to its size—the louder the bellow, the bigger the gator.

What Happens When an Alligator Bellows?

When a male alligator bellows, it makes a sound from its lungs. However, the sound is too low for anyone to hear. The sound causes its back to vibrate, and this whips the water. 

The water moves, forming Faraday waves. On the surface, it looks like the water is dancing. The bellow above the water is audible, but underwater, it is different. 

In the water, this vibration produces sounds that are too low for human ears to hear. However, female alligators can hear this. The rumbling agitates the swamp, and it sends sound waves that potential mates can hear.

The sound that the alligator makes underwater is like a radio broadcast that other alligators can hear and react to. Alligators use this method to find a mate when they are old enough to breed.

How Size Affects an Alligator’s Bellow

According to research, crocodilians bellow to advertise their body size. According to the study, the real or specific function of the bellowing remains unclear but is tied to the size of the animal.

The size of an alligator affects the courtship process. It also has an impact on how they display territorial behavior. In mammals and birds, they produce sounds in what is known as formant frequencies. 

However, it has not been known whether or not non-avian reptiles can do the same. Because of this, scientists tested Chinese alligators to bellow in a chamber. 

In the experiment, they found out that the alligator inhaled normal air or a mixture of helium and oxygen (heliox). This air increased the velocity of how the sound traveled.  

Heliox is a combination of gases that allows for normal breathing or respiration. However, it changes the distribution of the sound that comes out of the alligator. 

As such, the scientists concluded that a big alligator produces a bigger sound. The bellow of an alligator is an indicator to the others of its size. In the wild, bigger means stronger, and natural selection is what follows next.

Read More: Are Alligators a Type of Lizard?

Chinese Alligator
Larger alligators bellow more loudly than smaller alligators

Can Alligators Purr Like a Cat?

Alligators do not purr, they bellow. The bellowing sound is used in territorial disputes and mating rituals and is not a sign of affection or contentment like a cat’s purr.

There is a viral video of an alligator bellowing while a human was striking under its chin which has led to some speculation that alligator bellowing is similar to a cat purring.

It is likely that the alligator was trying to communicate its territory. After all, it is one of the reasons they bellow. Alligators are not pets—while their scales are sensitive to touch, they are not at all like pet animals that like being, well, petted. 

Related Article: How Fast Can Alligators Swim?

Why do Alligators Moan?

Alligators do not moan, but their bellowing sound can sound something like a groan or a deep growl. They bellow to attract a mate and to defend their territory.

If it is not the mating season and an alligator is bellowing, it is possibly reinforcing its mark on its territory. The alligator will also do this in front of other threats—including humans. 

Read More: Can Alligators Smell Blood?

Do Alligators Bellow When Happy?

Alligators bellow to defend their territory and to attract a mate. It’s not a sign of happiness or contentment.

Surprisingly, reptiles do feel emotions, but these emotions are limited. These emotions are basic, such as fear and aggression. Dr. Sharman Hoppes of Texas A&M college said that they might also show emotion when stroked or offered food. 

This claim about pleasure as an emotion among reptiles is debatable. Many scientists agree that there is not enough evidence to prove it. However, it is true that many reptiles seem to recognize humans that feed them. 

A juvenile caiman on some reptile eggs
Juvenile alligators make a chirping or clicking noise

Related Article: How Far North Do Alligators Live in the USA?

Do Alligators Make Clicking Noises?

Juvenile alligators make a high-pitched clicking or chirping noise to attract the attention of their mothers. They do this when they are in trouble, and the mother who hears it will come to the rescue. 

For lack of a better term, the sound that a baby alligator makes is like a laser gun. It sounds something like, “Pew! Pew! Pew!”

Some people call it a chirp, but it isn’t. A chirp is what a bird makes. Some also say that gators “chirp” to show affection. Again, this is debatable.

No one really knows if alligators are capable of love. One thing that puts humans at risk is the tendency to assume that animals think like humans—it always ends up in disaster when humans do this with dangerous reptiles.

Summary

Alligators bellow for three reasons. They bellow if they are looking for a mate. They also do it if they are socializing, and if they are marking their territory.

When they bellow in the water, their backs vibrate, and this vibration causes what scientists call the Faraday waves. These are sound waves that are too inaudible to humans underwater. However, these frequencies are audible to other alligators. 

The bellow of an alligator is directly proportionate with its size—the bigger the gator, the bigger bellow sound it makes. Bigger gators are scarier and are therefore more attractive to potential mates. 

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