American Alligator
Alligator mississippiensis

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Crocodylia
FAMILY: Crocodylidae

SIZE:
Average length of male at maturity is 12 feet -- 450 - 500 lbs. Female usually smaller. Record length is around 18 feet (killed in 1890 near Vermillion Bay)

HABITAT:
Water and lowland areas of southeast United States and Florida

DIET:
Wild - (Carnivorous) fish, snakes, rodents, frogs, other small animals; known to eat dogs, cows, or deer along water's edge.

Zoo - Fish, chicken, beef, and horsemeat

FACTS:

  • Tough, thick scaly hide for protection (which ironically has meant its demise)
  • Eyes above the skull for observing while the rest of the body remains submerged
  • Short legs for walking which are kept close to the body while swimming; alligators can also attain fast speeds for a very short time when they first climb on land

  • Powerful tail used as weapon for defense, for catching food, and for swimming

  • Strong jaws -- powerful bite -- once closed, man can keep jaws shut pretty easily

  • Can grow 40 - 50 new sets of teeth in a lifetime.

  • In winter they bury themselves in mud or go into deep holes during very cold weather; during moderate weather they usually remain in water

  • Eyes glow pinkish color at night -- pigment making night vision possible; eyes have 3 eyelids, one being transparent

  • Cold-blooded -- sun themselves to warm up; lie on bank with mouth open to cool off

  • Breathe with lungs, not gills; must come to surface for air

  • Alligators have yellowish camouflage spots when babies; are almost totally black when adults with lighter underside

YOUNG:
9 inches long when hatch from leathery egg; mother can lay up to 50 eggs, incubation time approximately 3 months; nest built out of grasses and plants 3 feet high, 7 feet across

COMPARISON:
Alligators -- broad snout, dark color, only top teeth on outside of mouth

Crocodiles -- more aggressive than alligator, yellowish-green-gray coloring, all teeth protrude; pointed snout

STATUS:
THREATENED -- once endangered due to overhunting; now protected due to its similarity of appearance to the endangered crocodile.

1961 - Louisiana banned alligator hunting
1966 - Officially added to Federal Endangered Species List
1972 - Safe population
1972 - First legal harvest since 1961

In some parts of Louisiana and Florida alligators have become a nuisance.

REFERENCE:
"The Amphibians and Reptiles of Louisiana," Harold A. Dundee and Douglas A. Rossman