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American Alligator

Alligator mississippiensis

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About the American Alligator

conservation status: least concern

Geographic Range:

range map

Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodylia
Family: Alligatoridae
Genus: Alligator
Species: mississippiensis

American alligators have long "armored" bodies, short legs, and they use their long, flat tails to propel them through the water. They're found in freshwater swamps, marshes, lakes and rivers. Is it a gator or a croc? It's all in the teeth! When its mouth is closed, you can see the crocodile's fourth tooth on its lower jaw. You won't see this tooth on an alligator.

Alligator Facts

American alligators are a dark green to black color with a creamy underside. They have short legs and a long “armored” body. Their tails, which they use to propel themselves when swimming, are flattened and very strong. Alligators' front legs have five toes and their back legs have four toes. Their snouts are broader compared to crocodiles, and their lower teeth aren't visible when their mouths are closed.

Length: Males can grow up to 13 to 14.7 feet, and females can grow up to 9.8 feet
Weight: Up to 330 pounds

American alligators are opportunistic predators that prey on fish, turtles, snakes, birds and small mammals.

The breeding season of the American alligator begins with courtship in April and goes through May when the actual breeding takes place. In late June to early July, an average of 35 to 50 eggs are laid. The mother guards the nest for the 65-day incubation period. Offspring reach sexual maturity after 10 to 12 years when they have reached a length of about 6 feet long. Males reach sexual maturity before females.

American alligators are social when they're young. A group of juvenile alligators stays with the mother in a pod, which provides them protection from predators. Adults don't display these close bonds.

American alligators hunt primarily at night. Small prey is swallowed whole. Larger prey is grabbed, drowned and then torn into chunks. All of the prey is consumed and digested, including fur and bones. American alligators are ectothermic (their body temperature is influenced by the environment). Therefore, after a large meal they can go without eating for months, especially in colder times of the year. They don't hibernate when it becomes cold but go dormant. They sometimes will dig a cave or tunnel in local waterways that can provide insulation in colder months.

Alligators are among the most vocal crocodilians and will develop different calls throughout their life to communicate with each other. During courtship, they emit cough-like purrs. When ready to hatch, young alligators make high pitched whining noises. Alligators also commonly roar at one another; their throaty bellows can be heard from up to 165 yards away. 

American alligators live in freshwater swamps, marshes, rivers and lakes ranging throughout the southern United States.

Median Life Expectancy:
In the wild they can live up to 35 to 50 years. In captivity they can live up to 65 to 80 years. The American alligator is considered a species of Least Concern globally. However the US Fish & Wildlife Service considers them Threatened because their populations aren't stable throughout their range and they are similar in appearance to American crocodiles that are Threatened. By protecting both species, it's hoped that more endangered crocodiles will be protected.

Fun Fact:

  • A group of adult alligators is called a congregation.
  • Smaller reptiles and amphibians, like red-bellied turtles, for example, incubate their own eggs in old alligator nests or "holes."