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Facts About American Alligators

Updated on October 30, 2017
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Born, raised, and university educated in the UK, Paul now lives in Florida. He has a passion for wildlife and the great outdoors.

An American alligator basking in the sun.  These reptiles can be found across the southeast of the USA.  Once listed as an endangered species, population numbers have recovered in recent decades and alligators were taken from list in the late 1980's.
An American alligator basking in the sun. These reptiles can be found across the southeast of the USA. Once listed as an endangered species, population numbers have recovered in recent decades and alligators were taken from list in the late 1980's. | Source

Not a lot of people know that the US is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles can be found living side by side. Alligators vastly outnumber the crocodile population, however, and are pretty easy to find in their natural habitat in places like Florida, where I live.

There are only two species of alligator across the world, a small group that live in China on the Yangtze River, and the American variety, which can be found across most of the southeastern United States.

Below are some interesting facts about American alligators.

Young alligator by the shores of Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida.  Alligators are found in parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and North and South Carolina, the biggest populations are in Florida and Louisiana.
Young alligator by the shores of Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida. Alligators are found in parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and North and South Carolina, the biggest populations are in Florida and Louisiana. | Source

Habitat

American alligators live in the south eastern corner of the United States, where the weather tends to be hot and humid.

The biggest populations of them can be found in Louisiana and Florida, but they can also be found in parts of Mississippi, Georgia, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and North and South Carolina.

Three states have alligators as their official state reptile: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.

Note the alligator's distinctive U shape of the snout, designed for crushing turtle shells with a powerful bite.  Crocodiles have narrower, more pointed snouts, thought to be because they eat a slightly different diet.
Note the alligator's distinctive U shape of the snout, designed for crushing turtle shells with a powerful bite. Crocodiles have narrower, more pointed snouts, thought to be because they eat a slightly different diet. | Source

Alligators like freshwater environments such as ponds, rivers, lakes, swamps, marshes and wetlands.

Occasionally they will venture into brackish water (mixture of salt and freshwater) but they cannot survive in sea water very long (unlike the American crocodile).

The Origin of Their Name

It is believed that the names come from a distortion of the Spanish term, “el lagarto”, which means, "the lizard".

Food Sources

The alligator's diet is determined by their size and age, generally speaking, the bigger they are, the bigger the prey they may go for.

Their diet usually includes fish, turtles, snakes, amphibians, birds, turtles, and smaller mammals.

Adult alligators can prey on deer, dogs, boars, sheep and cattle and have even been known to kill and eat bear cubs and panthers.

Young alligator in the water.  The young start out with stripey hides but by the time they reach adulthood, they are dark all over, apart from their undersides, which are cream colored.
Young alligator in the water. The young start out with stripey hides but by the time they reach adulthood, they are dark all over, apart from their undersides, which are cream colored. | Source

Breeding

Mating season is in the Spring, when male alligators (also known as "bulls") can be heard bellowing to ward off other males. Large numbers of males can sometimes gather for group courtship at this time, behaviour that is nicknamed “alligator dances”.

The female builds a nest of mud, leaves, stick and vegetation near or in the water and lays between 20 and 50 eggs which she covers with vegetation. The young hatchlings spend about 5 months with their mother before leaving them and reach adulthood after around 8 to 13 years.

Size

The largest American alligator ever caught was 19 feet 2 inches (5.84m). Males are more typically between 11 and 14 feet in length (3.4 to 4.4m), however, and the females slightly smaller at beteen 8 and 10 feet (2.5 to 3.0 m).

A photo I snapped of an alligator swimming in Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida.  They swim like fish; moving their pelvic regions and tails from side to side.
A photo I snapped of an alligator swimming in Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida. They swim like fish; moving their pelvic regions and tails from side to side. | Source

Chinese Alligators

Aside from the American variety, the only other species of alligator to be found in the world lives in China.

The Chinese alligator lives in the Yangtze River Valley. It is smaller than the American alligator and severely threatened - more exist in international zoos than in the wild, where their numbers occur only in the dozens.

Alligators vs Crocodiles

The Southern tip of Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles exist side by side.

Alligators can be found all over the southeastern United States, but the American crocodile only lives to the south of Miami, as it is sensitive to cold.

There are far more alligators than crocodiles in the USA as a whole. There are 5 easy ways to tell crocodiles and alligators apart.

A summary of the main differences:

  • Alligators have broader and rounder snouts than crocodiles.
  • They are more tolerant of cooler climates.
  • They have overlapping jaws.
  • They are generally darker in color.
  • Crocodiles are more tolerant of saltwater.

Alligators can be olive, brown, gray, or black in color dorsally.  Their undersides are cream-colored.  Rarely, albino alligators are born, they don't survive for long in the wild, however.
Alligators can be olive, brown, gray, or black in color dorsally. Their undersides are cream-colored. Rarely, albino alligators are born, they don't survive for long in the wild, however. | Source

Color

They are typically a blackish gray color, but their color can vary slightly according to the water they inhabit with tannin rich water (from overhanging trees) making them darker, and algae in the water making them greener.

Danger to Humans

One of the more surprising facts about Alligators is that although they are potentially dangerous, attacks on humans are relatively rare.

Alligators are normally pretty timid and avoid humans when possible, only attacking if they are either provoked, disturbed unexpectedly, or defending their young.

In Florida, there have been 275 unprovoked attacks by alligators on humans since 1948, and 17 deaths.

A photo I captured of a  young alligator beside Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida.  Adults have one of the most powerful bites known in the animal kingdom, enabling them to crack open turtle shells.
A photo I captured of a young alligator beside Lake Alice, Gainesville, Florida. Adults have one of the most powerful bites known in the animal kingdom, enabling them to crack open turtle shells. | Source

The Alligator Bite

It has an extremely powerful bite, one of the strongest in the animal kingdom. It has evolved so that it can crack open things like turtle shells, which form part of its diet.

The force of their bite has been shown to be enough to lift a small pick up truck!

Another, interesting alligator fact is that although the muscles for closing the mouth are very strong, the ones for opening it are very weak, meaning the mouth can be held shut with a human hand or duct tape.

Alligator Farms

Alligator farming is a large and expanding industry, producing alligator hides and meat. The farms can be found in Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.

Hides can sell for around $300 each. The meat is traditionally used in jambalayas, stews and soups.

Hunting and Regulations

Due to excessive hunting, American alligators were once threatened with extinction, but due to a combination of protective legislation, alligator farms, and efforts to support their habitat, their numbers have now recovered.

There is a regulated legal trade in alligator hides, which are used to make wallets, handbags, shoes, belts, luggage, and upholstery.

© 2014 Paul Goodman

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      Kyle westman 

      7 months ago

      I don’t like how they are killing alligators just for stupid shoes s stupid handbags etc.

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