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What You Need to Know About the American Alligator

Updated on March 16, 2014

When you think about large predatory animals, the first places that come to mind are probably Africa and Asia. However, the United States is home to a very large predator in the American Alligator.

A relatively docile reptile that once again appears in large populations in the southern U.S., this is an animal that must be respected. A typical adult male American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) can grow to an average of eleven feet long and around 500 lbs. Today, gators in the wild can reach as long as thirteen feet. In the wild, they can live up to 50 years. In captivity, they can live to be 80 years old or more.

Although the American Alligator typically spends its time in or near the water, it will go up to 170 feet from the shore to hunt mammals on land. Although they look bulky and slow on land, gators can reach speeds of 20 miles per hour (35 kilometres per hour) for short distances. If you find yourself in the unlikely position of being chased by an alligator on land, it is suggested to make sharp turns to avoid getting caught. The alligators can go fast in a straight line but have difficulty turning. Since 1948, less than 20 deaths have resulted in the State of Florida due to Alligator attacks.

Also known in the U.S. as a Common Alligator, or just Gator, the reptile was nearly killed off in the 1960’s. In 1967, the animal was listed as an endangered species. By 1986, the population had recovered and the American Alligator was taken off the endangered list. Today, the population is healthy enough for the animal to be harvested in Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi for their meat and skin. Alligators are found in the U.S. from the Texas border with Mexico, east to North Carolina.

The American Alligator is one of just two living species of the genus Alligator. The only other alligator species in the world is the smaller Chinese Alligator. Females typically lay 20-50 eggs at a time and several will hatch and survive. It should be noted that the female Alligators are ferociously protective of their young.

It is a myth that Crocodiles do not exist in the American south. The American Crocodile lives in southern regions where the salt water does not drop below 45 degrees farenheit. Alligators are much more tolerant of colder climates (even water at freezing) but are not as tolerant of salt water as the Crocodiles. Alligators can be identified by their wide snouts, overlapping jaws and darker skin colour.

American Alligators in the Florida Everglades

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