Picture an alligator. Now picture a debonair alligator. Was the second gator sporting a top hat? Of course it was.

If you, like us, take great delight in animals wearing hats (or getting frisky with them), then we have some good news for you. A team of scientists from South Carolina's Clemson University have been fitting alligators with GPS tracking devices that, if viewed from the right angle, resemble adorable top hats. The year is off to a perfect start.

Hats off to these researchers for inadvertently creating posh gators. Image © South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Researchers hope to glean data about the movements of adult alligators in and around South Carolina Wildlife Management Areas that will allow them to make better informed decisions regarding conservation policies for the apex predators. To fit the tags, alligators were humanely captured in their natural habitats, transmitters were fixed to their backs and they were released within an hour, according to a Facebook update from the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR).

Data, such as GPS location pings, are automatically sent every day over the course of two years helping researchers learn more about where alligators spend their time. "We’d like to see, especially with adult male alligators ... what kind of habitat they’re using and how much they’re moving throughout wildlife management areas and public waterways,” SCDNR Lead Alligator Biologist Morgan Hart told TV station WPDE.

Researchers from Clemson University fitting a tag to an alligator. Image © South Carolina Department of Natural Resources
A researcher from Clemson University uses telemetry to track a tagged alligator. Image © South Carolina Department of Natural Resources

Although alligator attacks are rare in South Carolina, the massive reptiles do sometimes clash with people as their habitat shrinks and the animals find themselves straying into areas of human habitation. The result is often unfavourable for the gators, and effective conservation policies to protect both animals and humans are essential. 

The placement of the transmitters, which sadly is not actually on the gators' heads as the image above suggests but rather on their backs, is strategic to allow for the most reliable results. Crocodilians are prone to losing limbs or bits of their tails during mating season scuffles, so transmitters must be placed where they are least likely to get accidentally chomped. In addition to this, the tracking devices cannot communicate with satellites while submerged, so placement high on the body is important.

The fact that the transmitters looks like hats when viewed from the front is merely a wonderful byproduct of necessity.

Top header image: cuatrock77, Flickr