Alligators are oviparous, meaning they lay eggs. A female alligator produces one or more clutches of 20-60 eggs each year, which are internally fertilized.

Male alligators woo broody females with bellowing choruses, infrasonic vibrations, head-slapping and courtship nuzzling. They also release a pheromonal musk.

But how do alligators have sex?

The Male

When an alligator finds a female it has a special process for mating. It first makes a low bellowing sound to attract the female. Then it lunges forward, attempting to be louder than the other males in the area. It tries to slap the water and lift its tail high, causing vibrations through the swamp.

In addition to using sound to find a mate, an alligator also uses it to communicate with other alligators. They can make a sound like a barking dog to alert other alligators to the presence of an intruder. When the alligators hear this sound they will move to protect their territory.

Once an alligator has hatched from its eggs it can grow to be over 1.83 meters long. The time it takes for an alligator to reach sexual maturity is tightly linked to its environment. An alligator that hatches and is raised in Louisiana will take about 18 years to get to sexual maturity, which is a full length adult.

If you want to see if an alligator is male or female, roll it on its back and have two people hold it down. Then carefully spread the area between the lower legs, called a vent, with forceps. If a penis emerges from the vent then it’s a male alligator. A clitoris will pop out of the vent in a female alligator, but it is much smaller than the male alligator’s penis.

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The Female

While it might be hard to tell what the sex of an alligator is just by looking at it, there are a few indicators that can help. For starters, female alligators are generally narrower than males in both their snouts and bodies. They also tend to build nests and lay their eggs in them.

Once a pair of alligators finds a potential mate, they will start engaging in tactile courtship behaviors like rubbing and pressing each other’s snouts or backs. They may even go so far as to push one another underwater or wrestle each other in a show of strength.

As soon as the pair is ready for business, they will begin to twist around each other trying to align their cloacas (waste and reproductive orifices). When they’re finally able to do so, the male will inseminate the female with his hidden penis. The entire mating process takes less than 30 seconds.

Luckily, an alligator wrangler in North Carolina has recently shared a video on Facebook showing how to properly “sex” a large alligator without having to wrestle it out of the water and stick a gloved finger up its well-disguised scrotum. The clip, which was posted by Shallotte Rivers Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach, sees the park’s general manager George Howard and a colleague holding down an uncooperative alligator while poking around its genitalia with a pair of forceps.

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The Courtship

The mating ritual of the American alligator is an event to behold. These massive reptiles—an adult male can reach up to 11.2 feet long and weigh a whopping 1,000 pounds—light up swamps, marshes, and riverbanks across the southeastern United States in springtime. It’s a loud and spectacular affair that involves a nuzzling and wrestling that can last hours. The gators attract one another with bellowing choruses, infrasonic vibrations, head-slapping, and courtship nuzzling that may involve riding each other or blowing bubbles.

When it’s time for the actual sex, the couple will writhe around in the water until they align their cloacas, the species’ version of a uterus. The male will then squirt his hidden penis into the female’s cloaca, causing her to inseminate herself with his genes.

Alligators are not exclusive with their partners, and females will often mate with many different males to ensure that their eggs are fertilized. A study found that female gators can have as many as 50 spermatozoa in their body, so they can store the sperm of multiple males for later use.

In the wild, two male alligators typically only mate with one female during breeding season. However, homosexual behavior has been documented among male alligators, which suggests that same-sex pairings may occur on occasion. However, further research is needed to understand the impact this behavior could have on alligator populations.

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The Copulation

Once a mate is found, the alligators will begin direct courtship by rubbing and pressing their backs and snouts against one another. They’ll also press potential mates down in the water, sometimes even straddling them or mounting them for a show of strength. The mating ritual itself is short and intimate, involving a male pushing his sperm through a female’s cloaca (the species’ version of the uterus). In a few seconds, the two alligators will align their cloacas, allowing for fertilization.

Like many animals, alligators are not monogamous and may mate with several different males in the course of a breeding season. A gator’s eggs are internally fertilized, and the female lays multiple clutches of about 39 eggs each.

A Lakewood Ranch resident captured a video of an alligator pair going at it in his backyard, and it quickly went viral on social media. The sex tape has been viewed more than 15,000 times on YouTube so far.

Scientists have uncovered some of the secrets behind alligator sex. Through constant temperature laboratory experiments, they’ve determined that alligator sex is determined by the egg-laying environment—cooler temperatures produce females and warmer ones males. That has important implications for embryological, teratological, molecular, phylogenetic and conservation research. For example, researchers have been able to grow larger female alligators using the skins of smaller males.