The American alligator, Alligator mississippiensi,is the largest reptile in North America. It has a large, dark (usually black), slightly rounded body and thick limbs. Unlike the crocodile, the alligator has a broad head. The alligator uses its powerful tail to propel itself through water. The tail accounts for half the alligator’s length. While alligators move very quickly in water, they are generally slow-moving on land. They can, however, move quickly for short distances.
Length Up to 18 feet; females are smaller.
Weight 450-600 lbs; females are smaller.
Lifespan 35-50 years in the wild; 60-80 years in captivity.
American alligators mainly eat fish, turtles, various mammals, birds and other reptiles.
An estimated 5 million American alligators are spread out across the southeastern United States. Roughly 1.25 million alligators live in the state of Florida.
Did You Know?
In 1987, Florida declared the alligator their official state reptile!
American alligators occur in Florida, southern Texas, Louisiana and parts of North and South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama. The majority of American alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana. However, the alligator’s range appears to have been increasing northward in the last few years. The United States is the only nation on earth where both alligators and crocodiles live togethe
Alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps, as well as brackish environments.
Did You Know?
Although alligators have no vocal cords, males bellow loudly to attract mates and warn off other males by sucking air into their lungs and blowing it out in intermittent, deep-toned roars.
Large male alligators are solitary, territorial animals. The largest males and females will defend prime territory. Smaller alligators can often be found in large numbers in close proximity to each other, because smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class.
During breeding season, the female builds a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot in or near the water.
Mating Season Mid-April through May
Gestation 60-65 day egg incubation
Clutch size 20-50 eggs
Eggs generally hatch in mid-August. Sex is fully determined at the time of hatching and irreversible thereafter, and depends on the temperature of egg incubation, with temperatures of 86°F producing females, and 93°F yielding only males.
Climate Change and Other Threats
Once hunted for their hides, alligators today are threatened mainly by habitat loss and encounters with people. They are hunted for their skin (for leather goods) and for their meat. Before hunting was controlled in 1970, an estimated 10 million alligators were killed for their skins.
As sea level rises due to climate change, a significant portion of alligators’ freshwater and brackish marsh habitat may face an incursion or inundation of saltwater. Like many reptiles, the sex of baby alligators is determined by the temperature at which the eggs incubate; higher temperatures due to climate change will produce a higher ratio of males, altering the male-female sex ratios.