Okefenokee Alligator Armor

An alligator’s body is covered by a dermal exoskeleton of massive, thick, tough scales and scutes which protect it like armor. Some are touch sensitive integumentary sensory organs for sensing and locating prey in dark blackwater swamps. Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com. Please don’t steal my images. Download and use legally from Dreamstime.com.

“I have always understood,” said Bilbo the Hobbit in a frightened squeak, “that dragons were softer underneath…” The dragon Smaug stopped short in his boasting. “Your information is antiquated,” he snapped. “I am armoured above and below with iron scales and hard gems. No blade can pierce me… My armour is like tenfold shields, my teeth are swords, my claws spears, the shock of my tail a thunderbolt…!” ​The Hobbit, JRR Tolkien

Truly, the American Alligator is a living dragon. In an entry aptly titled, Crocodilian Armor, Wikipedia states, “The epidermal exoskeleton of the alligator consists of oblong horny scales, arranged in transverse rows. The dermal exoskeleton consists of bony scutes.”

Massive scutes along its back, and smaller scales along its sides, arms and hips. A close-up look reveals a mesmerizing puzzle-like pattern without gap or chink; all laid in order, above and below… an impressively armored creature! Its armor is not just as a shield during battles with his own kind, nor just for protection from the hardness of the swamp environment, but to prevent water loss and dehydration in his sultry tropical climate.

Although the armor appears thick and tough, parts of an alligator’s body are quite sensitive – even more than a human fingertip. An asknature.org article says, “The touch-sensitive organs are called integumentary sensory organs. Thousands of these sensory organs cover the alligator’s face. They are especially dense around the teeth, inside the mouth, and at the tip of the snout. Researchers hypothesize that these extremely touch-sensitive areas around the mouth help the alligator locate, capture, and examine prey even when visual and sound cues are absent.”


iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/40913606

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