Alligator flows down, flies up

Dead alligators move fast. In just a few days, all the heft of the alligator’s body has gone, like smoke in a heavy wind. Flies and beetles carried some of the body’s remains down; putrefying bacteria and purifying vultures carried other molecules aloft.

All that remains are bones and rubbery skin. A deflated inner tube lies over limestone rock fragments.

alligatordeadalligatordead3The most unusual of the animal’s bones are the dermal scutes, bony plates that form an exoskeleton down the animal’s back. The scutes of young alligators are covered in skin, but this quickly wears away. The alligator therefore has both an endoskeleton (like us) and an exoskeleton (like the arthropods).

alligatordead2

13 thoughts on “Alligator flows down, flies up

  1. Cassandra Kimble

    this is fascinating… as is every post of yours. I am curious about the large bones off to the upper right…like adult femurs and the skin/hide still visible on the lower left when the skeleton is so very well cleaned.

    thank you for your offerings.

    -Cassandra Kimble C_Kimble@msn.com

    Date: Sat, 6 Jul 2013 14:41:05 +0000 To: c_kimble@msn.com

    Reply
  2. Katie Brugger

    I love looking at bones, thank you for sharing this. For many years I had a skull collection, until I gave it away to some boys I know. I once buried a pelican I found on the beach and dug it up six months later–what a cool skull that was.

    Reply
  3. pete saussy

    haven’t seen a dead gator so i wouldn’t have known what the scute came from, now i will keep an eye out. we have gators crawling out to the beach and in neighborhoods presumably chased out of marsh by bigger ones. pawleys island, sc

    Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Smaller ones can co-exist in the same pool as the parents for a while, but then start roaming. These juveniles wander down the dirt roads here. A beach encounter would be startling.

      Reply
  4. Karen Idoine

    Is it possible that alligators’ evolutionary lineage traces back to a connection with turtle ancestry? Or, is the endo/exo skeleton example one of parallel evolution?
    I admire your writing. Do you ever teach science writing in workshop settings?

    Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Thank you for this excellent question. The turtle and alligator lineages have been separate for a long time, so these are two independent events. The turtle shell is made from ribs, spine and dermal bone. I’m pretty sure that it is technically an endoskeleton with the skin on top of it. The hard scutes that we see are keratin growing over the skin, not bone.

      I have not taught any science writing beyond my writing instruction as a prof which, to date, has been oriented toward teaching biology students scientific writing for scientific journals, not for non-technical outlets or in the genre of what might be called creative nonfiction. In the future that might change, but that remains to be determined.

      Reply
    1. David George Haskell Post author

      Very interesting! For some reason this is a major problem in the UK but not in the US. Rare birds of prey in the UK have their nests put under 24-7 watch by volunteers. This is partly to protect the nest from egg collectors and partly to protect again people involved in the illegal falconry trade.

      I belong to the RSBP and every newsletter/magazine of theirs has reports of obsessed men and their hunt for bird eggs.

      Reply

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