Alligators may be among the world’s oldest species, however, they are often shrouded in mystery. While these giant reptiles are reminiscent of prehistoric times, we mustn’t forget that they still play an important role in maintaining ecosystem balance.
Perhaps that’s why I’m so fascinated by alligators. They’re not often talked about so I love uncovering new facts about these mysterious creatures, so if you’re like me then you might also want to know more.
Like where do alligators sleep?
Alligators sleep on their stomach and during warm weather, they enjoy sleeping by the riverbank or on rocks under the sun, however, if the temperature falls below 70 F, they will burrow into holes they dug along a waterway. Female alligators will also sleep near their nest in marshy areas until the eggs hatch.
If you want to learn more about the sleeping habits of alligators, like where, when, and how then keep on reading!
Where Do Alligators Sleep?
Whether we’re talking about the American Alligator or the Chinese Alligator, both of these animals live in slow-moving freshwater rivers and streams, as well as lakes, ponds, and swamps.
On a warm day, you can often find alligators basking under the sun by the riverbank, and naturally, alligators will often fall asleep while being in such a state of relaxation. Alligators can doze off while they are in the water as long as their nostrils are out of the water so they can breathe.
Alligators will also dig burrows known as “gator holes” in the wetlands, in which they sleep to avoid extreme heat and cold, as well as humans.
American alligators dig sleeping holes that are usually 10 to 20 feet in diameter and a few feet deep. Chinese alligators on the other hand create larger and more complex shelters that are 33 to 82 feet long, with multiple rooms, water pools, and entrances. Each room is big enough for an alligator to turn around after entering.
It’s worth mentioning that according to the Florida International University these gator holes have a large impact on the ecosystem because they “tend to stay full of water throughout the dry season and even extended droughts, providing critical sustenance for fish, insects, snakes, turtles, birds and other wildlife that inhabits the ecosystem.”
Female alligators will also sleep by the nests they’ve built to protect their offspring from other possible predators. These nests are constructed in a sheltered spot in or near water, usually along the periphery of alligator holes.
The newly hatched alligators will live and sleep together in their nest under their mother’s protection until they are one to two years old.
How Do Alligators Sleep?
While most geckos or bearded dragons usually do not brumate during the colder months thanks to the warm environment their owners provide them with all year round the same can’t be said about reptiles that live in the wild, including the alligator.
Just like all cold-blooded animals, the alligator goes through a period of brumation, which is quite similar to hibernation, but “instead of experiencing long, sustained periods of inactivity, brumating reptiles stir occasionally to drink water; however, they may go without food for several months.”
What’s fascinating about alligators is that they also go dormant during really hot temperatures, that’s why you will find alligators brumating or seeking refuge in their gator holes, where the temperature is warmest during the winter and much cooler during the summer.
Some alligators have found a different strategy for surviving the cold. Instead of digging a gator hole, they stay submerged in the water, of a sanctuary park in North Carolina. They of course make sure to keep their snouts sticking about the surface to breathe as the surface of the water begins to freeze over.
You can actually see their snouts sticking out in this video!
Admittedly this strategy doesn’t always work, but in a lot of these places, the water under the ice doesn’t freeze on consecutive sub-freezing nights, allowing the alligators to survive the cold.
While brumation is a big part of an alligator’s yearly sleeping cycle, these animals also enjoy long 17-hour naps within a 24-hour cycle. Some alligators prefer to sleep on rocks, basking under the sun, while others choose to rest in their gator holes even when not brumating.
When Do Alligators Sleep?
I think most people expect alligators to be nocturnal creatures, but that’s not entirely true. On the one hand, alligators are more active during the night and sleep during the day, on the other hand, because they are also considered diurnal these animals can also be active or sleep both during the day and night.
According to James Perran Ross, a scientist of wildlife ecology and conservation “alligators are also more active at dusk.”
When it comes to brumation, it’s the weather that dictates when and for how long an alligator will remain dormant in their mud tunnels. Usually, once the weather starts to warm up (70 F/21 C) they will come out of their dormancy, and when it drops below 70 F (21 C) they will go dormant again.
How Long Do Alligators Sleep?
If we’re talking about the day-to-day sleeping pattern of an alligator then these animals can sleep anywhere around 17 hours within a day.
However, if we’re talking about the brumation period, then there’s no clear timeline, simply because it’s heavily dependent on the weather. Alligators will also wake up during their dormancy period to drink water.
Do Alligators Sleep With Their Eyes Open?
If you thought that alligators can sleep with both of their eyes open then you will be disappointed to find out that they can’t.
Instead, it seems that only crocodiles can sleep with one eye open and their special eyelids help them do this in all kinds of conditions. This is called unihemispheric sleep. According to a 2015 study “during unihemispheric sleep, the eye neurologically connected to the ‘awake’ hemisphere remains open while the other eye is closed.” Basically, one part of the animal’s brain is asleep and the other part is awake.
Of course, even crocodiles don’t use this ability all the time. Researchers found that “under normal circumstances, crocs don’t stare at the world through just one eye very often (about 1 hour each day). And most of the time, crocodiles keep both eyes closed(about 17 hours total each day).”
Do Alligators Sleep With Their Mouth Open?
It’s not uncommon to see alligators sleeping with their mouth open, and they do it to stay cool. They use this cooling mechanism because they don’t have sweat glands as we do.
So, since alligators can’t regulate the temperature of their body as effectively, they will open their mouth to avoid overheating, or they will simply swim into the cool water, or move to a shady area.
Do Alligators Sleep Underwater?
Alligators can sleep underwater for short periods of time, however, they have to be partially submerged with their nostrils sticking out of the water for them to breathe.
Alligators cannot sleep underwater if they are completely submerged, because they will have to hold their breath which they can only do for up to two hours.
The reason why they can stay submerged for so long has something to do with unidirectional breathing, a breathing mechanism that birds also use.
When the alligator breaths the air travels in a loop and that air is incoming and outgoing at the same time. This means that the blood, which is rich in oxygen, is spread out in the body where oxygen is needed the most, instead of going to the lungs.
So, during submersion, the alligator’s heart slows down to two or three beats a minute and it’s the only muscle receiving oxygen. In other words, alligators can ration their air supply. This way this animal can stay underwater, for much longer, and once the oxygen is almost gone they resurface.
In reality, alligators are more likely to jump for a 10-20 minute dive to hunt and then get out of the water to get proper rest by sleeping in their gator hole, or hidden in the reeds partially submerged or on dry land under the sun, and not underwater.
Do Alligators Sleep In Groups?
The social life of an alligator isn’t the same throughout their life. As the eggs hatch and the baby alligators come out they begin their life living as a group.
They live together under the protection of their mother for a year or two, and during that period, they stay in the area where they were hatched. Once they are ready to fend for themselves alligators become completely independent and they’re free to go wherever they like.
Younger alligators are social creatures and you will often see them congregating in groups, especially when they are sunbathing, that’s even more true for Chinese alligators because they are smaller compared to American alligators.
Larger and more mature alligators are less social, and they start drifting away from alligator gatherings, though they usually remain on the outskirts of said groups.
As they grow larger and older they become even more solitary and they avoid any contact with other alligators unless, of course, it’s mating season.
How Do Alligators Sleep Without Drowning?
As I’ve already mentioned alligators can’t sleep underwater at least not for extended periods and not if they’re fully submerged.
While they can stay submerged underwater for around two hours, they usually don’t sleep during that time, hence they don’t drown.
Alligators sleep on dry land, or in their burrows where they are also not at risk of drowning. If they do sleep in water then they are probably positioned on the outskirts of the wetlands they are occupying, with their feet touching the ground.
What Time Of The Day Are Alligators Most Active?
Alligators might be more active during the night and spend their day sleeping under the sun or in the water, depending on the weather, but James Nifong, who used a camera to study the day-to-day habits of alligators found that alligators “were most successful when hunting between 4:00 and 9:00 in the morning.”
According to Nifong “the alligators choose to forage then because they’re using more energy to regulate their body temperature later in the day.”
So, I think it’s also safe to assume that the temperature heavily affects when alligators are most active.
Where Do Alligators Go At Night?
As we’ve established, alligators spend most of their day, sleeping under the sun if it’s not too hot, drifting in the water to stay cool, or they hide and sleep in their gator holes.
But what about nighttime?
According to the University of Florida “alligators primarily hunt at dusk or during the night. They lie motionless in wait for prey.”
So, alligators spend every night hunting, and they are quite good at it, James Nifong states that “they’re attacking something once every two hours.”
The reason why alligators are more active during the night is that just like cats, they can also see in low-light levels of the night because of a thing called tapetum lucidum which is a natural reflector system, it’s a structure that reflects light back into the photoreceptor cells and enhances visual sensitivity.
That’s why alligator eyes glow red at night!
Alligators definitely enjoy sleeping, after all, they do it for more than half the day, and like most reptiles, they enjoy a bit of sun, and like most humans, they want to be cozy when the temperatures drop.
Well, sort of like humans, because unlike alligators I don’t imagine myself digging a hole in the mud to sleep in.
Jokes aside, I do hope you got to learn a few new things about alligators and if you’re interested in acquiring more alligator knowledge then there’s more to come!