How different are male and female hatching alligators? This is the research question to be addressed by Biology major Katie Wayne. The external genitalia of adult alligators are quite different by sex, as to be expected. However, at hatching, this morphological difference is subtle with males only being slightly more developed than females. While the sex of American alligators is determined by egg incubation temperature in the nest, development of a clitoris or penis is a more developmentally delayed process showing greater morphological variability within a given sex. In the funded grant “Establishing Crocodilian Genital Differentiation: New Approaches Investigating Hatchling Alligator mississippiensis Sexual Dimorphisms”, Katie will investigate how variations in and fluctuations of nest incubation temperature change alligator genitalia cell proliferation and overall growth rates. Her results will better inform how environmental conditions interact with developmental processes to generate reproductively fit alligators.
This research has been graciously funded by the IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group Fritz Huchzermeyer Veterinary Science Student Research Assistance Scheme (FHVS-SRAS) with the specific goal of encouraging and assisting undergraduate students to undertake formal research to advance crocodilian veterinary science.