American alligator, a representative of reptiles, is a species of an immense size. Typically, this alligator has short legs that, in spite of their size, allow the alligator to run and even gallop. American alligator has 5 toes on its front legs and 4 toes on its back legs. It has a big hollow in its upper jaw, so when it closes the mouth, the huge 4th tooth of the lower jaw fits into this hollow and is not seen from the outside. American alligators’ tail is smooth while body is armored. When in the water, alligator moves either onwards or backwards; as for the latter, the tail helps him swim effectively. They have silverfish eyes. From the outer side, on the back, the alligators’ skin is armored with scutes and osteoderms (plates of bones). From the underside, an adult alligator is creamy-white while being either black or olive-brown outside. Young are identified by flaxen stripes on their tails.
Major areas of American alligators’ habitat are located in USA, mainly in south-eastern states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, southern Georgia, eastern Texas, south-east of Oklahoma, southern Arkansas and along the sea coast of Carolina. Habitat of American alligator includes freshwater ponds: rivers, swamps, saturated areas etc. Nevertheless, alligators can also be found in salty environments.
American Alligators are both diurnal and nocturnal animals, being active all day long. Their homes – dens - are big holes in the ground. Though using dens for protection, alligators love taking sunbaths in warm season of year. Large individuals of American alligator, especially males, defend the territory and lead a solitary lifestyle. Smaller ones, however, keep closer to each other. During the cold season, alligators are usually dormant. They dig up to 65 feet-long tunnels in water, leaving the top part of it above the water level. These caves serve as shelter under extreme weather conditions.
American alligators are carnivores and they’re not very choosy about food. These animals are satisfied with any kind of prey: from fish to birds, from mammals to other reptiles and, sometimes, even mollusks and insects. However, in spite of being carnivores, these alligators feed upon not only meat, but also fruits.
American alligator is polygynous, i.e. one male can mate more than 10 females within his home range. Males of this species are especially careful to defend the territory from other males, particularly during the season of breeding. They try to scare away each other, demonstrating open jaws and colliding with heads. Mating season starts in the middle of spring and lasts until May, after which females start building nests of vegetation. Then, two months later, at the end of June – beginning of July they lay 35-50 eggs. Incubation period lasts 65 days, whereupon baby-alligators hatch out of eggs. The babies join groups called pods. Until the youngsters are under the age of 1 year, the mother protects them from predators, after which the female leaves hatchlings, tending to lay new eggs in the following breeding season. American alligators reach maturity at the age of 10-12 years, when they attain a length of 6 feet.
The federal government has listed American alligator as threatened due to its similarity with American crocodile: the latter is endangered and thus the federal government tries to protect them from being confused by hunters. Perhaps, if not the human intervention, American alligators would never have been threatened. However, alligators’ skin is nowadays highly valued, serving as a material for boots, shoes, wallets and purses. And not only their skin is in demand, but also their meat is popular in food industry. In addition to this, currently there are large commercial farms where American alligators are raised as a profitable source of high-quality meat and skin.
The overall population of the American alligator counts up to 5.000.000 individuals throughout south-east of USA, 1.25 million of which live in Florida. The ICUN classifies this species as Least Concern (LC).
In their habitat, alligators are one of the species that play key role in the environment. Thus, they regulate population of prey species in the area. On the other hand, dens or caves, that they excavate, benefit other animals in area. For example, red-bellied turtle uses nests, left by alligators. In addition, alligators are highly sensitive to toxin, thus serving as good indicators.