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The gator grapnel: pedal anchoring in the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

journal contribution
posted on 2023-05-22, 06:14 authored by Collin Walter, Michael Cramberg, Bruce A. Young

To resist forward displacement of their body during non-locomotor behaviors such as feeding, American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) hold their hindfeet vertical, then push the foot into the substrate so that the dorsum of the foot forms a contact area with the substrate. Herein this form of bracing is termed pedal anchoring. The purpose of the present study was to describe pedal anchoring and to demonstrate whether it entailed interaction between the hindfoot (pes) of Alligator and the substrate that differed from the interactions seen during locomotion. Alligator tracks were studied in the wild, during controlled field trials, and on a mud trackway in the laboratory; in each setting locomotor and pedal anchoring tracks were photographed, cast in Plaster of Paris, then features of the casts quantified. Statistical analysis demonstrated greater variation in the wild tracks, presumably reflecting the larger size and velocity ranges of the alligators involved, and suggested that the mud trackway used during the locomotor trials did not create significant artifact. Tracks produced during locomotion and pedal anchoring by the same alligators, on the same substrate, yielded significantly different quantitative features, different matrices of Pearson correlation coefficients, and different patterns of character distribution following Principal Component Analysis. These results all support the conclusion that pedal anchoring involves fundamentally different interaction between the pes and the substrate than occurs during locomotion. 


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