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American Alligator


Description: The iconic American Alligator is one of two species of alligator in existence. The other is the smaller Chinese Alligator. These animals are relics from the past and their ancestors date back at least 150 million years. The American Alligator can grow to 15 feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Females are considerably smaller. The tail of the alligator accounts for about half of its total length and aids in swimming, or, is used for defense. Alligators have rounded bodies, thick arms and legs, and a large head. Their bodies are covered with armored plates known as osteoderms or scutes. They are usually dark gray, olive green, or black in coloration. Juvenile alligators have striped tails. These reptiles are often observed completely submerged except for the snout, which allows them to breathe while under water. Sometimes during cold weather, the alligator will enter a period of dormancy with its nostrils above the water’s surface and the rest of the body encased in ice! Alligator holes, burrows dug in vegetation by alligators, are invaluable sources of water for many species of animals during extended dry periods. Did you know that a group of alligators is called a congregation?

Diet: The American Alligator is an opportunistic hunter and will eat just about anything it can catch including wading birds such as herons and egrets, fish, turtles, small mammals, deer, raccoons, and other animals. Hatchlings and younger crocodiles eat insects, snails, and invertebrates. The alligator hunts by ambushing prey as it enters the water. Large prey is seized in the alligator’s jaws and dragged underwater and drowned.

Habitat/Range: The American Alligator inhabits freshwater swamps, marshes, rivers, canals, and ponds. It is found exclusively in the southeastern United States from the coast of northern North Carolina, south to the Florida Everglades and west to eastern Texas.

Breeding: Males compete vigorously for the rights to mate with females by bellowing and chasing other males out of their territories. Male alligators are polygamous and mate with multiple females. Alligators reach reproductive age between the ages of 10-12. Mating usually occurs in May. The female builds a nest out of vegetation and lays between 35-80 eggs in late June or early July. After an incubation period of about two months, the eggs hatch. Temperature determines the gender of the alligators. If the eggs are incubated in temperatures between 82 and 86 degrees Fahrenheit, the young will be female, those incubated from 90 to 93 degrees will be male. Those incubated from 87-89 degrees produce a mixture of males and females. Most of the young alligators will fall victim to raccoons, birds, and snakes, despite the mother’s best efforts to defend them. Males provide no parental care, and females generally will watch over their young for about one year.

Status: American Alligators were formerly hunted to the brink of extinction for their skins, before being listed as an endangered species in 1967. Since 1967, alligator populations are considered fully recovered and the species is once again a common sight in wetlands of the south. The species was taken off the endangered species list in 1987.