American Alligator Fact File

Alligator mississippiensis

Weight

450kg

(992lbs)

Length

2.6-3.4m

(8.2-11.2ft)

Lifespan

Wild 50 years

Captive 70 years

Diet

Carnivore

Frogs, Mammals, Insects

Conservation Status

IUCN

Least Concern

See you later Alligator!

The American alligator is one of the world’s two alligator species with the other being the Chinese alligator found in Asia.

In their North American home the American alligator is a fearsome predator which is capable of taking down large prey. This is then consumed by shaking it to break it in to smaller pieces with their teeth not considered good for tearing.

Humans are the only predator of adult American alligators and when hunting pressures identified during the 1960s they were almost driven to extinction but conservation efforts have since helped to recover their numbers.

Appearance

What does the American Alligator look like?

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. They have five toes on their front legs and four on the back legs.

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. These are hard plates which help to protect the alligator.

The average female American alligator measures 2.6m (8.2ft). Males measure 3.4m (11.2ft). Some males have reached 450kg(992lbs).

Adaptations

What helps the American Alligator to survive in its habitat?

American alligators constantly replace their teeth. As old ones wear out they develop new ones to replace them. Throughout their life they may have as many as 3000 teeth. At any given time they have been 70 and 80 teeth within their mouth.

Diet

What does the American Alligator eat?


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.

Range

Where can you find the American Alligator?

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

What kind of environment does the American Alligator live in?

American Alligators inhabit lakes, ponds, rivers, marshes, swamps and wetlands. Most of their time is spent in fresh water but they have been seen in areas of brackish water. Occasionally they will be seen in salt water, mainly to feed when food is scarce.

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Reproduction

How does the American Alligator produce its young?

American alligators work on their nest and egg laying between June and July.

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.

During the breeding season the males produce a roar which serves to both scare of rival males and alert females to their presence and desire to mate.

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.

Juvenile alligators have darker, near black skin which is patterned with a series of yellow spots and stripes.

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 territory for 2 years. At the end of this time they will either disperse of their own choosing or be driven out by larger, more dominant alligators in the area.

They age at which they achieve sexual maturity is determined by length and is typically around 1.2m of length. The average age at which this length is achieved is between 10 and 12 years old.

Behavior

What does the American Alligator do with its day?

Alligators are one of the nosiest reptiles on Earth. They make a range of roars and bellows as adults while young also produce a bark. To communicate their territory they may use a headslap which involves raising their head above the water and quickly slamming it down again. This causes a loud pop which carries through their territory.

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

During periods of cold weather they will dig a depression along the waterway where they will enter a period of inactivity. During extreme warm temperatures they may dig holes in the riverbank which fill with water where temperatures will remain stable and protect them. These are often used after by a number of other species.

Predators and Threats

What is impacting the survival of the American Alligator?

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. Estimates put the current adult population at between 3 and 4 million individuals.

Previously the largest threat to the American alligator came from hunting to supply the skin and meat trades. They are now afforded protection across much of their range with most range states protecting wild crocodiles and regulating the trade in captive individuals. Some range states allow for egg collection to supply captive ranches.

An increasing threat is habitat degradation due to the expansion of agriculture and human habitation. This can lead to flooding, water pollution and more within their habitat.

Quick facts

The alligator is the reptile emblem of three US states.

Alligators are being hunted for their meat and their skin.

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

The name alligator is taken from the Spanish phrase, el lagarto which translates in to English as the lizard.

References

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].

American alligator (no date) SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment. Available at: https://seaworld.org/animals/facts/reptiles/american-alligator/ (Accessed: January 22, 2023).

American alligator (alligator mississippiensis) (no date) RSS. Available at: https://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/americanalligator/ (Accessed: January 22, 2023).

Elsey, R., Woodward, A. & Balaguera-Reina, S.A. 2019. Alligator mississippiensisThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2019: e.T46583A3009637. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2019-2.RLTS.T46583A3009637.en. Accessed on 22 January 2023.

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