alligator mississippiensis

American Alligator

About Me

Scientific Name: Alligator mississippiensis

Description

In the United States, alligators grow larger than crocodiles. Adults usually range from 6-12 feet in length, but the maximum is more than 19 feet. A full grown male may weigh up to 1200 pounds, while the female is slightly smaller. An alligator is much like a crocodile in appearance, but has a broader, more rounded snout. Also the fourth tooth from the front of the lower jaw lies inside the closed mouth rather than outside as it does in the crocodile.

Fun Facts
  • They can use tools. American alligators have been observed using lures to hunt birds. They balance sticks and branches on their heads, attracting birds looking for nesting material.
  • Alligators have two kinds of walks. Besides swimming, alligators walk, run, and crawl on land. They have a “high walk” and a “low walk.” The low walk is sprawling, while in the high walk the alligator lifts its belly off the ground.
  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Chordata
  • Class: Reptilia
  • Order: Crocodilia

An alligator is much like a crocodile in appearance, but has a broader, more rounded snout. Also the fourth tooth from the front of the lower jaw lies inside the closed mouth rather than outside as it does in the crocodile.

Alligators have valves in their ears and nostrils to keep water out. Because their mouths lack lips and thus do not shut completely, two flaps cover the gullet and windpipe during dives. Its rear legs are longer than its front legs and each foot has four toes ending in claws.

In the United States, alligators grow larger than crocodiles. Adults usually range from 6-12 feet in length, but the maximum is more than 19 feet. A full grown male may weigh up to 1200 pounds, while the female is slightly smaller.

American alligators are found in the coastal plain from North Carolina, southward throughout Florida and westward to the southern tip of Texas. They inhabit fresh and brackish marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers and swamps, bayous and big spring runs.

Somewhat clumsy out of water, the alligator is superbly equipped to live in it. They are strong swimmers and experts at drifting along on the surface, submerged except for their bulging eyes and nostrils. Their long flat jaws not even making a ripple in the water as they stalk turtles, swimming birds and fishes.

Adult alligators have dens to which they regularly retire. These dens are holes in riverbanks, and it is in them that the cooler months are weathered. Except at breeding time, they are likely to lead a solitary existence.

The alligators’ food changes with age. The young feed on insects and on freshwater shrimp. As they grow older they eat frogs, snakes and fish. Mature adults live mainly on fish but will catch muskrats and small mammals that go down to the water’s edge to drink. They also take a certain amount of waterfowl. Very large alligators may occasionally pull large mammals such as deer or cows down into the water and drown them.

In preparation for egg laying, the female searches for a place at the edge of a pond or marsh where there is moist debris–leaf mold, twigs and branches and even growing shrubbery. This she scrapes into a high mound and then digs a cavity in the top of the heap in which she deposits about 29-68 eggs. Unlike most other reptiles, she guards them until they hatch about nine weeks later. Incubation is 2-3 months.

When ready to hatch, baby alligators make faint squeaking sounds signaling their mother to help them tear open the mound. Baby alligators are 8 inches long when first hatched and grow 1 foot a year, reaching maturity at 6-7 years of age. It is uncertain how long alligators live; in isolated protected habitats they may live 50 years or more.

Young alligators are an easy prey to carnivorous fish, birds and mammals. At all stages of growth they are attached and eaten by large alligators.

Once considered an endangered species, the American alligator, under state and federal protection, has made a comeback. Alligators were hunted extensively for their hides and meat before they were protected.

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