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Totems: Aligator, Part 2 of 3

by Cie Simurro, a.k.a. Thunderbird Starwoman

Are you protective of your children? Female alligators make surprisingly good mothers. By that I mean that after mating, she builds a nest on a mound 7-10 feet wide and 2-3 feet high near the water, by repeatedly dragging her body over the nest until it is compacted into a mound for the 20-60 eggs she lays. Now this is really interesting: the sex of the young is determined by temperature. Above 93° all the young will be male; below 86° they will be female. Temperatures in-between produce both sexes. For all we know, the mother may intentionally or instinctually build her nest in a sunny or shady spot to balance out the numbers of males and females in her neighborhood.

After covering the eggs with nearby vegetation, which incubates the eggs as it rots, producing heat, she then guards the eggs from predators like raccoons, foxes, otters, snakes, and bears for the entire time – some 10 weeks – until they hatch. How’s that for maternal behavior? When the mother hears hatching sounds begin, she scrapes nest sand and soil off the eggs, so the young do not have to dig themselves out. Then - and I love this part - she lifts these new miniature replicas of herself in her mouth, carrying them down to the water to release them. Females have also been seen washing pieces of the egg off the 8-inch newborns, or holding the hatchling - oh so gently in her jaws - while swishing water in her mouth for a bath. Amazing behavior for an egg-laying species! Sometimes the father will stay to help build the nest and guard the eggs. Baby alligators have been observed calmly sitting on the heads of gigantic males. There is so much we don’t know about these shy, normally non-aggressive giants. Just don’t mess with their babies or you will experience untold ferocity!

The mother then continues to be protective, as her young may stay with her for two to three years, while she teaches them to hunt frogs, crustaceans, and insects. As adults they will also prey on small mammals, fish, turtles, and birds like Roseate Spoonbills, herons and other waders. Perhaps one of your children has an alligator for a totem? If they do, make sure they associate with those who will be a good influence, because just as reptiles adjust to their environment both in temperature and coloration, so also will impressionable children take on the characteristics of the group or environment in which they are. Children and adolescents may also be subject to growth spurts. Alligators grow about a foot a year toward maturity. In the wild, southern alligators usually reach puberty by the age of nine or ten; however, further north like in North or South Carolina, puberty might be delayed until fifteen in males; females may be as old as eighteen before they begin to breed. Why? Because puberty in alligators is determined by size, not age! It just keeps getting more interesting.

Alligators can be found along rivers of the coastal plain, in lakes and watering holes, and lurking in murky swamps and lagoons, waiting for unsuspecting prey to come along. The fact that alligators are extremely sensitive to movement and splashes is a big advantage to a predator that lives in murky waters, where it’s hard to see prey. Alligator eyes are unique. First of all, those bulging eyes pop up like they were spring-loaded; very handy for gliding stealthily. No matter what angle the head tilts at, the football-shaped pupil will stay vertical to the horizon. It floats like a gyroscope. At night, their eyes reflect light like burning coals. When they are submerged, nictating membranes cover the eyes; a valve closes ears and nostrils; a fold of skin covers the windpipe so that the mouth can be open without the alligator drowning.

The skin of alligators is covered with non-overlapping scales embedded with geometrically arranged bony scutes, which are keratin plates making little spikes that create the typical-looking ridges. One could say they are armored warriors. If this totem is in your life, you are receiving stellar protection. In addition to providing protection for the alligator, the scales help to retain moisture. The coloration provides camouflage, and plays a role in courtship and territorial displays. A tail serves three purposes: first, it acts like a paddle in water, propelling the alligator forward. Secondly, the ‘gator uses it to turn over; and thirdly, it is used in fighting. Webbed feet help them negotiate mud. As if this reptile wasn’t marvelous enough, alligators have a four-chambered heart like mammals and birds. This enables them to mix oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood, which lowers their metabolism so they can dive for extended periods of time (15 to 30 minutes, and up to 2 hours when they need to). They can reroute blood and stop circulation to the lungs while they are submerged. Are responsibilities weighing you down? Alligator will help you use your time and vitality efficiently, so you don’t waste energy. Do you have a place of inner refuge to go to when life gets overwhelming? A daily spiritual practice like Meditation, Yoga, or Qigong will prove Einstein’s theory of relativity in your life. Though you still have the same 24 hours a day to work with, time will rearrange itself differently related to your usage of it.

Folks with American alligator as a totem are aligned with all four elements: Water, Earth, Air and Fire. The element of water is associated with Spirit, the emotions, and cleansing. Still waters (alligator’s preferred environment) run deep. Is something that was hidden, coming to the surface? Look for a situation in your life that’s clearing up. Earth is our home, our foundation and our bodies. How will you carry out your purpose in this life? What creates stability for you? Air carries sound, and the abilities of the mind. When alligator glides into your life, expect an epiphany of new ideas. Look into shamanic sound healing. Both sexes can hiss loudly in a way that defines the word hissss when threatened, but pretty much, their only predators are man or bigger alligators. Fire: denotes creativity, magnetism and heat. Alligators are cold-blooded vertebrates. This means they must get their warmth from external sources. Basking helps them maintain body temperature by absorbing heat from the sun. Why is that important? Maintaining optimal body temperature is important for their digestion, and staying active, alert and mobile. Extra heat and Vitamin D from basking allows the skin to remain free of parasites and disease. As alligators live at shorelines, this totem moves between the worlds as a keeper of the mysteries of birth, death and regeneration. It is important to remember that great power carries equal responsibility for using it wisely. Those with this totem must not abuse their power, but use it for the good of all.

Alligators’ range is from the Carolinas, down throughout Florida and west to mid-Texas. As semi-aquatic hunters, even when it’s cold, they surface from the water to breathe oxygen from the air. Alligators don’t actually hibernate. In winter they get dormant and fast from food, their metabolism slowing down while they hang out in "gator holes" they have dug along a waterway. These deep oases of fresh water range in size from small to large, and are sometimes the only water around when heat dries up other water sources. In this way they support the entire community of animals. This has contributed to their becoming a keystone species.

There aren’t many in the animal kingdom more primal than ‘gators. Are you heeding your instinctual voice that doesn’t care one whit about what society says; that wants you only to be true to yourself? This totem gives to its holder the wisdom of ancient, hidden knowledge. How do you use your power? How much of your energy is involved in making a better world; how much of your behavior is threatening the possibility of happiness in your life? What things or people in your life are dragging you under? Are you a survivor of some form of abuse? If alligator is your totem or you need its power, remember that it has survived relatively unchanged for millions of years, when others (such as dinosaurs) could not adapt or survive, and have become extinct. One thing is sure; this tough, strong, dominant, fearless powerhouse is going to stand proud. There is nothing about this totem or those who have this totem that is apologetic or meek. Even in captivity, they are unruly and stubborn. BTW, should you ever meet an alligator unexpectedly, stand tall, and raise your arms. An alligator measures its prey by its height; that means a 500-pound, obstreperous, powerhouse alligator can be intimidated by a comparatively scrawny human! Maybe it’s the old Napoleonic complex, because it can only raise itself a bit on those short, stubby legs!

Read Part 1 at wisdom-magazine.com. Be sure to check next issue for Part 3!

For 40 years, Cie Simurro ~ Thunderbird Starwoman has been bringing forward the healing arts and ancient universal wisdom through her writing, healing work, and teaching. For 13 years, she has been a contributing writer to Wisdom Magazine. For healing for you or your animal, spiritual training, to invite Cie to give her presentation: "Our Partnership With Nature" in your area, or purchase her book, Totems for Stewards of the Earth ($22 to PO 295, Shelburne Falls MA 01370), call 413 625-0385 or email: cie@ciesimurro.com

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