Wildlife Q & A: How can you tell if an alligator is male or female?

Q: How can you tell if an alligator is male or female?

Baby alligators stay close to their mother for protection.
Baby alligators stay close to their mother for protection.

A: There are three ways. Two are easy; the third is not.

The first easy way is to gauge the length of an adult alligator. If it measures 10 feet or more, it’s a male. Females don’t grow that long. If it’s less than 9 feet in length, it could be either a male or a female.

The second easy way is to see if there are lots of small, newly born alligators around the adult. They will stay by their mother for up to a year and she will protect them. A male gator could eat them, even if he’s the father, so the mother usually won’t let him anywhere near the babies.

There are minor physical differences in head and body shape, but basing a decision on those alone is risky at best.

So much for the easy.

To be absolutely certain of an alligator’s gender, it’s necessary to either feel or visually identify the copulatory organs that are hidden inside the alligator’s body in the cloaca, or vent, on the animal’s belly. It is a slit located between the rear legs.

For newly hatched gators, the sex organs can only be seen with a magnifying glass. The baby gator is turned on its back, the vent is opened using a tweezers, and the organs are illuminated by a magnifying glass. If they fill the entire cloaca and are dark pink to
dark red, it’s a male. Female organs are half that size and are light pink or white.

For a larger alligator, the gator must be flipped over and a person must insert a clean finger into the vent and feel for the copulatory organ which is pulled out, measured and examined. This procedure does not harm the alligator if performed correctly; however, large alligators don’t allow themselves to endure such a demeaning intrusion.

So unless an alligator is over 10 feet long or it is protecting baby gators, there’s no way to be sure if an alligator is male or female.

For more than you ever wanted to know about sexing alligators, visit
www.wmi.com.au/csgarticles/genital_structure_sex_identification_l.pdf

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By Dick Brewer

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