Alligators are one of the world’s most feared predators. With rows of dagger-sharp teeth, a muscled reptilian body, a dinosaur face and eyes, alligators frighten yet fascinate people. Scientists are working hard to understand this modern-day reptile.
Dr. Daphne Soares, biology professor at the University of Maryland, was intrigued by the hunting ability of the alligator. She knew alligators have keen eyesight and excellent hearing but there was something else that made them such efficient predators, the king of the swamp. Careful focus on the dark bumps all over the animal’s upper and lower jaws led her to conclude that these bumps “were very sensitive tactile organs that can detect ripples in the water.” The ability to feel waves or ripples is one of the many features that makes the alligator an excellent predator. Once the alligator detects ripples, it swims swiftly and silently in the direction of the prey.
Alligators are carnivores. They seize and hold their prey with sharp teeth. Small quarry, such as fish and ducks, are swallowed hold. Larger victims are shaken apart into smaller, bite size pieces. Gators have between 74 and 80 teeth in the jaws at a time. When their teeth get worn down, they are replaced with new ones. Imagine that! No need for a dentist. Alligators can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
Alligators are a rare success story of an endangered species saved from the brink of extinction. As late as 1950s, alligators were hunted for meat and hide. They were placed on the Endangered Species list in 1967, and now thrive in the freshwater swamps and wetlands of the southeastern United States.
A smiling American Alligator displaying the bumps around its upper and lower jaws.
Steve wrote, Sea Turtle Scientist after spending time with Dr. Kimberly Stewart, “the turtle lady,” and describes her work on St. Kitts with endangered loggerhead sea turtles.
Steve is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen R. "Alligator Smiles." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 29 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/alligator-smiles.
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Nature's Animal Ambassador
Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be a wolf? You’re born in a cozy, dark den under the ground, probably along with at least one brother or sister. Your eyes are closed shut, but you can smell and feel your way over to your mother to drink sweet, warm milk from her teats. Your father and older brothers and sisters bring food from their hunts to feed your mother.
Your eyes open in about two weeks, but you can’t see much in the darkness of the den. You nap a lot, snuggled up to your siblings and your mom. Then, about a week later, your mother leads you all out of the den into the sunshine. How different it is up here! Now you explore the wild world, wandering among the trees, lapping water from a creek, wrestling and tumbling with your brothers and sisters.
After you get bigger and stronger, you and your family leave the den and move to a safe outdoor area. It’s scary at first, being in a strange new place with no dark den for comfort. An older brother or sister watches over you and the other pups while the rest of the family, or pack, goes hunting. When the hunters return you rush up and lick their faces and they share the meat they got on the hunt. All the older wolves in the pack let you climb all over them and nip their ears and tails while they take care of you, protecting you from danger.
All that good meat helps you grow into a big, strong wolf, with thick, shiny fur. In the fall, you go along on the hunt and learn how to find game and how best to catch it. Hunting is exciting but dangerous. You or other family members might get kicked by a deer or stomped on by a moose. But if you get injured, the other wolves take care of you until you recover. You are family, and family is what matters.
Grey wolf. © Dorothy Hinshaw Patent, 2014
Dorothy Hinshaw Patent is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Patent, Dorothy Hinshaw. "What's It Like Being a Wolf?" Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 27 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/whats-it-like-being-a-wolf.
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