Animal Allies – Alligator

I’ve already written about crocodiles, cousins to the alligators but to refresh, let’s look at the differences:

Crocodiles Alligators
V shaped snout U shaped snout
Teeth are visible when mouth is closed Teeth not visible when mouth is closed
Saltwater Freshwater

Having pointed out the differences, they are incredibly similar in terms of biology and behaviour so if you’ve pulled the alligator card I’d strongly suggest looking at the crocodile as well.

The What

Alligators are ancient predators who have stalked around this planet for millions of years, they are living dinosaurs who have successfully adapted to surviving in this world.  They are primitive, armoured crocodilians.

So, with that in mind, it might be time to listen to your gut, trust your basic instinct right now.  Don’t overthink things, instead follow your intuition.  And whilst most water cards are about emotions and delving into ourselves, the alligator is protected by its thick skin.  There is a time and a place for shields and this might be that time.  The crab card has a lot to say about armour and shells if that is something you feel is chiming for you today.

The Where

As we’ve seen, alligators live in freshwater and there are two living species – the American alligator and the Chinese alligator, both living exactly where their names suggest.  They lurk in the shallow waters of creeks, rivers, lakes, everglades and swamps with their bodies just below the surface.  Continuing the metaphor of water as our emotional realm, we are just taking a little look at our feelings, we are glancing at them but not truly engaging with them – remember we’re wearing our armour as well.  This feels like perhaps we’re taking an academic look at our emotions and unconscious which has its place in the world.  This is a stage of analysis rather than immersion.

One really interesting thing about alligators is that they can survive in freezing temperatures – they stay just below the surface with their nostrils about it and can live even when ice freezes around them!  This seems to echo the idea of a detached look at emotions.

Wherever they are found, alligator holes tend to increase plant diversity and provide habitats for other animals, especially during droughts.  This is an important function in terms of maintaining ecological diversity as well as a reminder about the interconnectedness of life.  Even though the alligator may not be especially interested in most of the flora and fauna they give life to, they are making a difference to the community they live in.

The How

Probably the most well known thing about alligators is that they have incredibly powerful jaws which snap shut with brutal force but which are hard to open.  They use this to kill and eat prey including fish, frogs, snake and mammals but they are not gratuitously aggressive.  They hunt to survive and perhaps, more than most predators, understand what it’s like to be on the other side.  As eggs and babies, they are at risk from some of the very creatures they eat; snapping turtles, fish, birds and skunks all eat them when they are in the early stages of life.  Alligators transition from prey to predator, from hunted to hunter, from a more passive role to a more active one.  We are not defined by the status we are born with, we are all able to move up the food chain or climb the pyramid if we wish to.

Like crocodiles and sharks, alligators often spark fear in humans.  But like crocodiles and sharks, it’s surprisingly rare for an alligator to attack.  They eat food which is smaller than an adult human and are more choosy about what they eat than crocodiles.  They are also less likely to kill if they do attack a person.  So, as with the crocodiles and sharks, perhaps instead of being afraid, we should explore why we are afraid.

Taz Thornton writes about facing fears in her book, uses the spider as an example:

“If you are afraid of spiders, try to remember when you first learned that fear, then work out what, exactly, you believe you are afraid of… Is it the swift movement?  Would they still be scary if they moved at a snail’s pace?  Is it the legs?  Who else do you know with legs?  Are they scary?  What would a spider have to do to make friends with you?  What if they started delivering your favourite treats, or spinning lovely words for you to wake up to in the morning?”

And the sex, drugs and rock and roll…

Although large male alligators are solitary territorial animals, they do need to attract females in order to mate.  This involves laying just below the surface and making low, deep bellows which make water droplets on their backs dance.  Apparently this is what female alligators are attracted to…  Perhaps the human equivalent is someone with really good moves on the dance floor?

Once they’ve wooed their mate and done the deed, the female then lays her eggs on the riverbank and the sex of the babies is determined by the temperature.  At least for those that survive and escape thieving paws.  They then hatch and the mother carefully carries them in her powerful jaw to the water.  That extremely powerful mouth which can trap and kill is gently holding her babies.  As we saw with the bear, this dichotomy of dangerous predator and nurturing mother is a powerful metaphor.

Because the young are vulnerable, mum is very protective and they stay with her for a while as they learn to hunt and fend for themselves in the safety of home.  It is good to have a safe space to explore or practice or play with ideas before letting them out into the world and having critical eyes turned on them. We must nurture our creations when they are in the early stages, we must protect them at their most vulnerable and care for them whilst they are fragile.  Only once they are surer, more confident and more fleshed out should we allow the world to see them.  And not all creations are destined to make it.  Of an average nest of 38 alligator eggs, only about 5 will make it to maturity.  Some simply won’t hatch, not making it off the ground, and others will but the harsh realities of life, the practicalities of living and the dangers of the world will kill them, often in their first year.  We all need that safe place, that space inside a shell, to test out ideas.

Those creations which do make it to maturity will need your strength, courage and tenacity to survive.  Be a force to be reckoned with when it comes to those projects you love and want to see succeed.  Do not be put off by the hardships and challenges that other creations may have experienced.  There is something here that goes back to where we started – the idea of needing a tough skin to deal with people and situations and to keep going even when faced with criticism.  If you know that this project is what you need to do, do it.  Be assertive.  Fight for it.  But don’t become stubborn.  Not all projects need to make it to completion, sometimes it’s about the journey.  Check in with yourself, your intuition, from time to time and review why you are working on this.

Be fierce and ferocious but also gently nurture, like the mother alligator.

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