American Alligator

American Alligator

Gator, Common alligator, Mississippi alligator

Kingdom
Phylum
Subphylum
Class
Order
Family
Genus
SPECIES
Alligator mississippiensis
Population size
5 Mln
Life Span
35-80 yrs
TOP SPEED
24 km/h
WEIGHT
91-227 kg
LENGTH
2.6-3.4 m

The American alligator, a representative of reptiles, is a species of immense size. Typically, this alligator has short legs that, in spite of their size, allow the alligator to run and even gallop. The 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 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. 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.

Distribution

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, south-east of Oklahoma, southern Arkansas, and along the sea coast of Carolina. 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

Geography

Continents
Countries

Climate zones

Habits and Lifestyle

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 the warm season of the year. Large individuals of the 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 a shelter under extreme weather conditions.

Seasonal behavior

Diet and Nutrition

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.

Mating Habits

MATING BEHAVIOR
REPRODUCTION SEASON
starts in the middle of spring and lasts until May
PREGNANCY DURATION
65 days
BABY CARRYING
2 to 58
INDEPENDENT AGE
1 year
FEMALE NAME
cow
MALE NAME
bull
BABY NAME
hatchling
BABY CARRYING
35-50 eggs

The 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. 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 reach maturity at the age of 10-12 years when they attain a length of 6 feet.

Population

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, 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

  • 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 temperature between 86-93° F will produce both males and females.
  • The word “alligator” literally means “the lizard”, originating from the Spanish equivalent "el lagarto”.
  • Since 1987, the American alligator is recognized as the official reptile of the state of Florida.
  • In spite of not having vocal cords, the male of the 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.
  • Along with being excellent swimmers, alligators gallop, run, walk and crawl. There are two types of alligator walk: “high walk” – holding the body above the ground, and “low walk” - a stretching walk.

References

1. American Alligator Wikipedia article - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_alligator
2. American Alligator on The IUCN Red List site - http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/46583/0

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