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American Alligator

Appearance

The average female American alligator measures 2.6m (8.2ft). Males measure 3.4m (11.2ft). Some males have reached 450kg(992lbs). The American alligator has a broad, rounded snout which is relatively flat. Their nostrils face upwards allowing them to breathe while the rest of them is submerged. Their body is covered in scales. Their colouration ranges from light browns through to black on the top. Their underside is a cream colour. Juveniles have distinctive yellow stripes across their back.

The American alligator has a back which is covered in small spikes known as osteoderms. They have five toes on their front legs and four on the back legs.

Diet

The American Alligator is considered the apex predator within its habitat. The American alligator is a carnivore. American Alligators feed on fish, birds, invertebrates, frogs and mammals. There has also been recent evidence that alligators feed on fruits.  

Alligators will swallow a small prey item whole. The larger items are shaken apart as the alligators teeth are not designed for cutting.

Scientific Name

Alligator mississippiensis

Conservation Status

Least Concern

Height

Male - 3.4m (11.2ft)

Female - 2.6m (8.2ft)

Weight

450kg (992lbs)

Lifespan

50 years

Diet

Carnivorous

Range

American alligators live throughout North America. Their range is around the coast from North Carolina and into Texas. They are the most cold-resistant of the crocodilians. This allows them to spread quite far into the North.

Habitat

American Alligators inhabit lakes, ponds, rivers and wetlands.

Reproduction

Courtship for American alligators begins in spring. At night the alligators gather for the ‘alligator dances.’ At these dances the alligators swim in pairs for hours and sometimes afterwards swim away to spots where they mate. The female builds a nest from vegetation where she will deposit a clutch of 35 to 50 eggs.

After 65 days the juveniles will begin to emerge. The temperature affects what sex the juveniles will be. A temperature above 93°F(34°C) will produce a male. Temperatures below 86°F(30°C) will produce a female. Temperatures between this range will produce a mix of males and females. Before hatching the juveniles will emit high-pitched sounds. This signals to the mother that it is time to remove the nesting material.

The young gators live in pods. 80% of these will be picked off by predators. These predators include bobcats, otters , snakes, larger alligators, raccoons and birds.

Alligators will remain with their mothers for 2 years. They achieve sexual maturity at 10 years old.

Behavior

Alligators are one of the nosiest reptiles on Earth. They make a range of roars and bellows.

Humans are the main predator of adult American alligators.

Both males and females maintain a home territory. The males is larger than the females. During breeding season both genders expend their range.

Quick facts

The alligator is the reptile emblem of three US states.

Alligators are being hunted for their meat and their skin

The American Alligator almost became extinct in the 1960s due to hunting but now has recovered to such a large number there are no concerns.

Scientists believe the American alligator has been around for 150 million years.

References

Elsey, R., Woodward, A. & Balaguera-Reina, S.A. 2019. Alligator mississippiensis. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T46583A3009637. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T46583A3009637.en. Downloaded on 24 April 2020.

San Diego Zoo Kids. 2020. American Alligator. [online] Available at: <https://kids.sandiegozoo.org/animals/american-alligator> [Accessed 24 April 2020].

Seay, K. 2019. "Alligator mississippiensis" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 24, 2020 at https://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Alligator_mississippiensis/

Smithsonian's National Zoo. 2020. American Alligator. [online] Available at: <https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/american-alligator> [Accessed 24 April 2020].

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