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A broad snout and a top jaw that overlaps the lower jaw and teeth are characteristics that distinguishe American alligators from their crocodile cousins. American alligators inhabit a wide range of habitats in the Southeastern U.S. and consume nearly any prey that comes within range. This species practices parental care, and females will protect the hatchlings for a year or more from predators, particularly dominant male alligators
  • Size

    Up to 13-14.7 feet (4.0-4.5 m) in length
  • Diet

    Nearly any aquatic or terrestrial prey that comes within range. This includes fish, turtles, small mammals, birds and reptiles, including smaller alligators
  • Range

    Occurs in the Southeastern U.S.
  • Habitat

    Found primarily in freshwater swamps and marshes, as well as in rivers, lakes and smaller bodies of water

Physical Characteristics

  • Adult male American alligators typically reach 13-14.7 feet (4.0-4.5 m) in length. Females reach lengths of about 9.8 feet (3 m). The tail is about one half the body length.
  • Characteristically broad snout. Upper jaw is wider than lower jaw and completely overlaps it so that the edge of upper jaw overlaps teeth in lower jaw.
  • Bottom teeth are almost completely hidden when the mouth is closed. This is in contrast to crocodiles, in which the lower teeth show outside of the upper jaw.
  • Juvenile is darker above with bright yellow cross-bands. Aging brings the gradual loss of the banding and the alligator will turn olive brown and black, with some areas around the jaws and neck a creamy white. The ventral surface of the body is pale.
  • Number of teeth is usually 74-80. New teeth grow to replace lost or damaged ones.
  • Small, sensory pits dotted around the upper and lower jaws can detect small pressure changes in water and assist in locating and capturing prey.

Animal Fact

The sex of alligator hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest during incubation. Warmer temperatures produce males, while cooler temperatures produce females

Diet / Feeding

  • Diet consists of nearly any aquatic or terrestrial prey that comes within range. This includes fish, turtles, small mammals, birds and reptiles, including smaller alligators.
  • Juvenile diet consists of small invertebrates, particularly insects, as well as small fish and frogs.
  • Adult is an opportunistic feeder and will consume carrion on occasion. May also be a threat to dogs and other small pets.
  • Foraging will cease when water temperature drops below about 68 degrees F (20 degrees Celcius).

Range / Habitat

  • Occurs in the Southeastern U.S. in the following states: Alabama, Arkansas, North and South Carolina, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Found primarily in freshwater swamps and marshes, as well as in rivers, lakes and smaller bodies of water. Individuals also can be encountered in ditches, drainage canals, subdivision waterways, golf course ponds and roadways.
  • This species can tolerate low levels of salinity for short periods and is occasionally found in brackish water around mangrove swamps.

Reproduction & Growth

  • Elaborate courtship ritual involving low-frequency bellowing, head-slapping on the surface of the water, complex body posturing, touching and release of musk-like scents.
  • Fertilization is internal.
  • Female builds a mound nest of vegetation and mud that is elevated above any high water mark. She digs a conical nest on top, deposits 20-50 eggs in it and then covers them with vegetation. The female remains nearby during the 65-day incubation period, defending the nest from predators. The chirping of the new hatchlings brings the mother back to the nest and she carries them, eight to ten at a time, in her mouth down to the water.
  • Hatchlings form pods and remain close to the mother for about one year or more. She aggressively protects them from all predators, particularly large dominant male alligators.
  • As is common to many reptile species, the gender of hatchling alligators is determined by the temperature during incubation. Males are produced in warmer parts of the nest and females in cooler areas.

Conservation Status

  • “Least Concern” on the IUCN Red List.
  • Included in Appendix II of CITES to assist in the control of trade in other crocodilian species whose skins are similar in appearance.
  • American alligator populations in the U.S. were severely depleted in most areas during the first half of the twentieth century due to over-exploitation. Legislative protection was afforded to it in the 1960s and conservation efforts and monitoring were initiated. The recovery of this species has been extremely successful, current wild populations are estimated to be in the millions.
  • Recovery of the species from near extinction is partly due to programs of human rearing and reintroduction of juveniles into habitats alligators formerly occupied (e.g., in Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana). Proper management practices, including controlled hunting, are ongoing to ensure the sustainability of the populations.

Additional Information

  • Considered a “keystone species” in some habitats, such as the Florida Everglades, because of its vital role in the ecosystem.
  • In the Everglades, alligators modify the habitat by creating “alligator holes” which they excavate from mud and peat in the substrate using both the snout and tail. These water-filled holes provide refuge for other animals such as fish during dry periods and also provide foraging sites for wading birds, turtles and snakes. In addition, alligator nests provide elevated areas for the nests of other reptiles and are sites for germination of plants less tolerant of flooding.
  • Hibernates in dens during winter, but may emerge during brief spells of warmer weather.
  • Thought to live 35-50 years in a natural habitat and 65-80 years in human care.
  • An estimated 200,000 American alligators live in Georgia. They occur south of the “fall line,” which runs roughly from Columbus through Macon to Augusta. Any individuals found north of this line were transported there by humans, since the weather is too cold for natural reproduction in these areas.
  • When left alone, an alligator will stay away from people and pose little threat.
  • Humans should never feed an alligator in its natural environment, as this is extremely dangerous and may lead to the alligator approaching humans. This behavior is considered a nuisance or a danger and could necessitate removal of the individual.
  • As of May 2006, American alligators had caused 19 confirmed fatalities in the State of Florida since 1948.
  • There were eight reported cases of alligator attacks on humans in Georgia between 1980 and 2001. None were fatal.

Sources

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The largest reptiles in North America, American Alligators, are native to freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps and marshes in the southeastern U.S. — and now they also call Georgia Aquarium home.
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