In the swamps of the southeastern U.S. (in places like the Everglades), you’ll find the North American Alligator. You can also find two of these scale-y reptiles, named Ron and Penelope, in the central part of the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo.
As ferocious as alligators can be, they are also sensitive to their surroundings. The zoo brings them inside for the winter and keeps the alligator house at a constant 78° year-round. They also make sure the humidity inside is at least 50% to prevent them from getting dry skin. Ron and Penelope are fed gator biscuits each day, but rats and Jell-O only come twice a week. At 8 feet long, Ron is significantly bigger than Penelope, so he’s fed more.
The force of those jaws clamping down with up to 80 teeth inside is nothing short of incredible. But believe it or not, it doesn’t take much force to hold their mouths shut. The muscles for opening their mouths are much weaker than the strength of their closing power. Alligators aren’t very agile either, and if they drop their food, they may have a hard time picking it up. Still, these reptiles are a “no touch” for good reason.
Even though they don’t have gills, alligators can actually hold their breath underwater for up to 30 minutes. When you stop by the alligator tanks, you might see Ron and Penelope not moving very fast. They are cold-flooded and have low metabolisms, which is why they only eat every so many days. Alligators don’t expel a whole bunch of energy either and move in spurts. They are also opportunistic predators and only snatch at prey when they come nearby.
Interestingly enough Zookeeper Britni Plummer says that temperature can actually have an impact on the gender of alligator babies:
A fun fact about alligator eggs is the gender actually depends on the temperature. And so colder temperatures will produce more females, whereas warmer temperatures produce more males.
Penelope and Ron only have a few more months outside for the zoo closes up for the season, so be sure to stop by and say hi!