American Alligator

American Alligator

Gator, Common alligator, Mississippi alligator

Alligator mississippiensis
Population size
5 Mlnlnn
Life Span
35-80 years
Top speed
km/h mph 
kg lbs 
m ft 

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is a large crocodilian reptile native to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two extant species in the genus Alligator, and is probably the largest species within its family Alligatoridae; it is larger than the only other living alligator species, the Chinese alligator.


The American alligator has short legs that allow it to run and even gallop. It 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 the body is armored. When in the water, the alligator moves either onwards or backward; as for the latter, the tail helps him swim effectively. 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 individuals are identified by flaxen stripes on their tails.




Biogeographical realms

Major areas of American alligators’ habitat are located in the USA, mainly in south-eastern states, including Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida, southern Georgia, eastern Texas, southeast of Oklahoma, southern Arkansas, and along the sea coast of Carolina. The habitat of American alligators includes freshwater ponds, rivers, swamps, saturated areas, etc. Nevertheless, alligators can also be found in salty environments.

American Alligator habitat map

Climate zones

American Alligator habitat map
American Alligator
Public Domain Dedication (CC0)

Habits and Lifestyle

American alligators are both diurnal and nocturnal animals. During the day they often bask on shore, but also climb into and perch on tree limbs to bask if no shoreline is available. Their homes - dens - are big holes in the ground. Large individuals of the American alligator, especially males, defend the territory and lead a solitary lifestyle. Smaller ones, however, keep closer to each other. When on land, American alligators move either by sprawling or walking, the latter involving the reptile lifting its belly off the ground. They also have two forms of land locomotion that can be termed the "low walk" and the "high walk". In the water, American alligators swim like fish, moving their pelvic regions and tails from side to side. During the cold season, when the water begins to freeze, American alligators go into a period of brumation; they stick their snouts through the surface, which allows them to breathe above the ice, and they can remain in this state for several days.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

American alligators are apex predators within their native range. They 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.

Mating Habits

starts in the middle of spring and lasts until May
65 days
2 to 58
1 year
35-50 eggs

The American alligator is polygynous, i.e. one male can mate with 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. The 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 – the beginning of July they lay 35-50 eggs. The 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 become reproductively mature when they are 10-12 years old.


Population threats

The federal government has listed American alligators as threatened due to their similarity with American crocodiles: 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 the 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.

Population number

The overall population of the American alligator counts up to 5.000.000 individuals throughout the southeast of the USA, 1.25 million of which live in Florida. The ICUN classifies this species as Least Concern (LC).

Ecological niche

In their habitat, alligators are one of the species that play a key role in the environment. Thus, they regulate the population of prey species in the area. On the other hand, dens or caves, that they excavate, benefit other animals in the area. For example, the red-bellied turtle uses nests, left by alligators. In addition, alligators are highly sensitive to toxins, thus serving as good indicators.

Fun Facts for Kids

  • The word “alligator” literally means “the lizard”, originating from the Spanish equivalent "el lagarto”.
  • The American alligator is recognized as the official state reptile of three states: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
  • In spite of not having vocal cords, the male American alligator makes a loud roaring sound in order to attract mates, filling its lungs with air and exhaling with alternating and resonant bellows.
  • American alligators’ mouths can accommodate about 80 teeth. Outworn teeth are replaced. As a result, during its life, one alligator can go through 3.000 teeth.
  • Cases are recorded when alligators used baits to catch birds by placing sticks on their heads and thus decoying birds: the latter thought it to be nesting material.
  • Sex of the future breed depends on the temperature in the nest. Thus: if the temperature is higher than 93° F (33.8° C), male breeds are to be expected; if it’s lower than 86° F (30° C), then breeds would definitely be females while the temperature between 86-93° F will produce both males and females.

Coloring Pages


1. American Alligator Wikipedia article -
2. American Alligator on The IUCN Red List site -

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