More than just bones

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Frances holding Peewee,
our American Alligator.

Amongst a giant Diplodocus, amazingly beautiful malachite, and Quetzalcoatl – the Aztec god of chocolate – a variety of live animals reside within the museum as educational ambassadors in our Wildlife on Wheels program.  Fire salamanders and an Indonesian White’s tree frog educate children about amphibians.  A Savannah Monitor and Ringneck Dove help demonstrate the diversity of vertebrates.  Every day, Christine and I, along with the aid of our assistant, Ben, take care of over a hundred animals.

Throughout the year, an American Alligator named Peewee comes to our aid, helping us teach hundreds of children about wildlife in Texas and aquatic lifestyles.  Alligators like Peewee (Alligator mississippiensis) can be found in bayous from Florida to Texas. 

Peewee hails from Brazos Bend State Park in Needville, TX (also home to our George Observatory – watch out for his relatives while you’re out there stargazing!).  During a flood, his mother was forced to abandon her nest.  Luckily for Peewee and his siblings, the park rangers came in to collect the eggs and incubate them.  Through permits and an agreement with Brazos Bend State Park, we have been able to care for Peewee in a captive environment for the last 2.5 years.

Mother alligators are devoted to protecting their nests and hatchlings for up to two years before the young are sent on their way.  She listens for their calls when they are hatching and will help them out of their eggs.  She will carry them in her mouth from one place to another for protection or when looking for food.  If the babies feel threatened, they will chirp like a baby bird, calling for their mother’s help.  When full grown, the male alligator can reach up to 13 feet while the female reaches a length of about 8 feet., and they can live to be 35-50 years old in the wild.

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A closeup of our very own Peewee!

Peewee’s species is one of two alligator species in the world, the other one being the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis), which is currently listed as critically endangered. Less than 200 individuals are currently left in the wild.  Due to great conservation efforts, the American Alligator has made a great comeback and is no longer on the endangered species list.

Fun fact!  An alligator has about 80 teeth in their mouth at one time.  Over time, the teeth wear down and are replaced by new ones.  Over the course of a lifetime, an alligator can have 2,000-3,000 teeth!

In future posts, we will bring to light many of our animals’ lifestyles and behaviors, funny stories behind the scenes, and a discussion of other zoology-related topics. Let us know what you want to hear!

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