Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
July 6, 2024 ·  4 min read

Alligator Spotted With Missing Top Jaw Has People Confused

A unique alligator was found in Sanford Florida. Eustacia Kanter took a picture of it while visiting Wilson’s Landing Park, and Katrina Shadix posted it to Facebook, asking, “Is anyone in the area that can HELP this poor alligator?” The reptile was missing its entire upper jaw and snout. Without its full set of jaws and teeth, the species’ main tool to hunt and fight, it was unlikely to survive very long. The image left many people wondering how the gator functioned.

What happened to the alligator?

Jawline, the gator with the missing upper jaw
Photo: Seth Kubersky

“I think an image like this, missing the whole part of your face, is very shocking,” said Kim Titterington, a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. “…It could be from another alligator but the clean cut also suggests this animal was caught in a hunting snare.”

Because of its small size, the gator was surviving off of small bugs and fish, but Titterington was concerned about its survival when the reptile would get bigger and need bigger prey. Therefore, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials worked to catch it but the creature eluded them.

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Where does the gator live now?

Jawlene in her new home among other baby alligators
Photo: Seth Kubersky

Finally, the gator was trapped and brought to her new home in Gatorland outside Orlando where she was named “Jawlene” after the well-known Dolly Parton song, according to Global Ambassador Savannah Boan and CEO Mark McHugh. Gatorland is a 110-acre theme park that currently homes over 2500 alligators, especially ones that won’t survive in the wild like Jawlene. 

“This little gator is an absolute treasure,” said McHughs, inviting people to come visit the new arrival. “We are so in love with her – but another American treasure is Dolly Parton.” At the same time, Boan explained that Jawlene was already able to eat two mice on her own. 

How does Jawlene breathe and eat?

Photo: Gatorland

Jawline was underweight when she had arrived, according to Dr. Jim Bogan. She had tried—and failed—to bite Bogan while he had examined her.  

Although most alligators breathe through the nostrils on their upper jaw, Jawline breathes directly through a hole at the back of her mouth. “…So what she taught herself to do before she even got here is she uses her glottis (an animal’s airway),” said Boan. “What she’s done is she’s found a way to cover that hole for her sinuses with her glottis so that when she goes under it doesn’t fill up with water. She taught herself that. We didn’t teach her that. She’s pretty fascinating.”

Jawlene eats by using her tongue to push food to her throat before swallowing. In addition to rodents, she enjoys pork, chicken, and crickets.

Read More: Studies Say Only 1% Of People Can Find The Animal In This Picture. Can You?

Will the alligator get a prosthetic jaw?

Photo: Seth Kubersky

Unlikely, according to Boan. “The thing is, she is so small and this cut is so close to her eyeballs. Plus, she is still growing. She’s been through a lot in her little life and so to try to put a prosthetic on there, first of all she is going to outgrow it.” The vet would then have to keep making and applying larger and larger prosthetics. “It’s something we have tossed around but … it would be difficult and reptiles don’t do well with stress. Stress alone can make them shut down and stop eating.” Boan said that their goal was to keep her healthy and happy.

Can visitors see Jawlene?

Photo: Seth Kubersky

Yes, she has adapted to her new home among other baby gators and is thriving. She has befriended a turtle, Nellie Wafer, and she is beloved by many visitors to Gatorland.

However, McHugh has a warning on the official park’s website: If you happen to come across an alligator in the wild, stay away. And never feed them. This can make them associate people with food and lose their fear of humans. In Florida, feeding gators is illegal and can lead to the reptiles being euthanized for public safety. So if you see a gator that might need help, like in the case of Jawlene, don’t try to catch them on your own; contact local officials who can help.

Read More: America’s most widely consumed cooking oil may cause genetic changes in the brain, according to animal studies

Sources

  1. Florida Gator Missing Top of Jaw Gets Dolly Parton-Inspired Name: ‘Jawlene’.” People. Michael Lee Simpson. September 29, 2023
  2. “Alligator with missing upper jaw roaming around Sanford.Wesh. Michelle Meredith. September 8, 2023
  3. “Jawless Florida alligator named Jawlene for fellow ‘treasure’ Dolly Parton.” The Guardian. Victoria Bekiempis. September 30, 2023
  4. “Jawlene, Jawlene! Florida alligator missing top jaw gets punny Dolly Parton name.Yahoo Life. Kinsey Crowley. September 28, 2023
  5. “How does Jawlene, who lost her top jaw, do gator stuff? We asked.Tampa Bay Times. Sharon Kennedy Wynne. October 27, 2023