STATUS IN THE WILD: Least Concern
RANGE: United States
PHYSICAL FEATURES AND CHARACTERISTICS
American alligators are the largest reptile in North America. The males are larger with an average of 11.2 feet in length, while females average 8.2 feet. Alligator species look similar to crocodile species but can be distinguished by a rounded snout and the inability to see any teeth when the mouth is fully closed. This species has thick scales with bony spikes, called osteoderms, which act as armor, and a long powerful tail to defend against predators. The eyes and nostrils are positioned on the top of the head to allow the American alligator to breath and to watch for prey while the rest of the body remains hidden bellow the water. Coloration of the body is a dark brown or almost black in adults, with the offspring possessing yellow bands across the body and tail. Each individual has between 74 and 80 teeth at one time that have the ability to deliver a deadly bite force. When an alligator loses a tooth or one has become worn down, it will be regenerated. An alligator can go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
LIFESTYLE AND REPRODUCTION
The American alligator is considered a keystone species, meaning if this species was removed from the wild the ecosystem would collapse in that area. They play a role in digging watering holes that are a great water source for other animals in times of drought and a food source for the alligator. Alligators also have the ability to decrease metabolic rate as temperatures decrease. This allows them to stay beneath water for extended periods of time while the air is too cold for movement. During the summer, an alligator can stay underwater for around 20 minutes, but there is no definite length of time during the winter. There are reports of alligators staying underwater for over 24 hours, with most averaging around five hours.
American alligators typically breed in the spring, between late April and early June. Male alligators can attract females using deep bellows, water slapping, or intricate body movements. The females will build large mound nests of vegetation and mud, in which they will lay between 25 and 60 eggs. These eggs will be incubated using the heat from the rotting vegetation within the nest. The gender of the offspring is determined by temperature; higher temperatures cause males and lower temperatures make females. This allows for a variety in one nest depending on egg placement. The eggs will incubate for about two months at which point the mother will be protective and listening for calls from her hatching young. She will carry the offspring in her jaws to the water and try to protect them for the first year of life. Many young alligators are preyed upon by raccoons, birds, and adult male alligators.
American alligators can be found around water sources in the southeastern United States, ranging from eastern Texas to North Carolina.
Though they are usually found in freshwater such as slow-moving rivers, they can also be found in swamps, marshes, and lakes.
American alligators are opportunistic predators. Hatchlings start by feeding on insects and small amphibians and grow to eating fish, frogs, snakes, and eventually mammals. Adults mostly eat fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals but will eat about anything in extreme cases.