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Facts About American Alligators
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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 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.
- American Alligators, American Alligator Pictures, American Alligator Facts – National Geographic
- Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.
- WEC203/UW230: Living with Alligators: A Florida Reality. Edis.ifas.ufl.edu.
- "A String of Deaths by Gators in Florida". nytimes.com. May 15, 2006.
© 2014 Paul Goodman