American Alligator (Alligator mississipiensis)


Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family:    Alligatoridae
Size:    Length: 8 to 14 feet (2.4 to 4.2 m)
Weight: 450 to 500 pounds (204 to 226.7 kg)
Diet: Fish, turtles, snakes, large and small mammals and sticks
Distribution: United States
Young:  30 to 65 eggs
Animal Predators:  Bobcats, otters and snakes prey on young alligators
IUCN Status: No special status
Terms: Male: Bull    Female: Cow   Group: Congregation
Lifespan: 30 to 35 years in the wild



·       The American alligator is the official state reptile of Florida.

·       “Alligator” is derived from the Spanish “el legarto,” which means “the lizard.”

·       Just like chickens, female alligators produce unfertilized eggs even if they have had no contact with a male. 

·       The American alligator is the mascot of the University of Florida.

·       The only other alligator in the world is the smaller, timid Chinese alligator, which is no threat to humans.



Males are larger than females, but other than that, they look alike. Alligators have a flat body, with spiky “armour” running down their back to the tip of their tail. They have four muscular but short legs and a long snout. Adult alligators have dark stripes on their tail. They have approximately 80 teeth that get replaced when they are worn down. An alligator can go through approximately 3,000 teeth throughout its life. 



Florida has the largest alligator population, but they can also be found in Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Texas. They are usually found in freshwater, including swamps, marshes, lakes and slow-running rivers. Because they do not have salt glands, they can only tolerate salt water for short periods. The range of a male is approximately two square miles (5.1 sq. km), while the range of a female is somewhat smaller. Both may venture beyond their range during mating season.


Feeding Habits

When alligators spot prey, they quickly swim towards it and opens their jaws, clamping down on the victim. Alligators eat mostly fish, turtles, snakes and small mammals, but also eat sticks and just about anything else they can sink their teeth into. Because they will eat or attack just about anything, they are a risk to humans, who are advised not to swim at dusk or night, when alligators are most active. When alligators catch a large mammal on the bank, they drag it into the water to drown it and then eat it in pieces. Small prey is swallowed whole.



Alligators do not mate until they are 10 to 12 years of age. Breeding takes place in spring, with the males roaring to attract females. After mating, the female builds a nest of mud and vegetation and in early spring, lays as many as 65 eggs in the nest. She covers the eggs with vegetation for the duration of the incubation and remains near, guarding them. Approximately two months later, the young alligators begin to vocalize within their eggs, signifying that they are about to hatch. The female then removes the vegetation from the top of the eggs. The temperature of the nest determines the genders of the newborns. A nest below 30° C (86° F) will produce females; from 30° C to 33° C will produce a mixture of males and females, and above 34° C (93° F), will produce only males. The female helps the youngsters out of the nest, gently bringing them one by one to the water’s edge in her mouth. The alligators are six to eight inches (15.2 to 20.3 cm) in length when they appear and are in danger from many predators, including bobcats, otters and snakes. The mother is very protective and will guard her youngsters for up to two years after they hatch. If she hears one of her young making a croaking sound to signify it is in distress, the mother will rush to the rescue. The youngsters reach about six feet (1.8 m) in length sometime between ten and twelve years, but are safe from predators by the time they reach four feet (1.2 m). They stay with their mother for two to three years. 



Alligators float in the water with just their nostrils showing and at first glance, can be mistaken for a log. Their nostrils are at the end of their long snouts, allowing them to be almost totally submerged. In cold weather, alligators dig a tunnel in the mud and enter a dormant state.



Once endangered, alligators are now considered a recovered species by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife service. They continue to be listed as threatened by the USFWS and are protected, one reason being their similarity to the American crocodile, which is still endangered—the government does not want hunters to confuse the two and kill the endangered crocodiles. 



American Alligator Wildlife Fact File, IM Pub, US

The Crocodile Hunter, Steve and Terri Irwin; Dutton: a division of Penguin Putnam, 2001