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American Alligator
(Alligator mississippiensis)

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American Alligator

Alligator Facts:

  1. The alligator became the official state reptile of Florida in 1987.
  2. Male alligators can reach a length of 20 feet long. However the Florida Record is 14 feet 5/8 inch
  3. Average Clutch size of Alligators nest in 35.
  4. Alligators eat almost anything
  5. 80 teeth
  6. Most active between 82 and 92 degrees

See Video of a small Alligator

Alligator in Water

This Alligator is searching for food among the reeds.

The American alligator is a member of the crocodile family, whose members are living fossils from the Age of Reptiles, having survived on earth for 200 million years. However, the alligator can be distinguished from the crocodile by its head shape and color. The crocodile has a narrower snout, and unlike the alligator, has teeth in the lower jaw which are visible even when its mouth is shut. In addition, adult alligators are black, while crocodiles are brownish in color.

Today, alligators are found throughout the Southeast, from the Carolinas to Texas and north to Arkansas. As during the Reptile Age, today alligators live in wetlands, and it is this vital habitat that holds the key to their continued long-term survival. Alligators depend on the wetlands -- and in some ways the wetlands depend on them. As predators at the top of the food chain, they help control numbers of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.

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The alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail which it uses to propel itself through water. The tail accounts for half the alligator's length. While alligators move very quickly in water, they are generally slow-moving on land, although they can be quick for short distances.

Alligators will eat just about anything, but primarily consume fish, turtles, and snails. Small animals that come to the water's edge to drink make easy prey for the voracious alligator. Young alligators mostly feed on insects, crustaceans, snails, and fish.

The alligator's greatest value to the marsh and the other animals within it are the "gator holes" that many adults create and expand on over a period of years. An alligator uses its mouth and claws to uproot vegetation to clear out a space; then, shoving with its body and slashing with its powerful tail, it wallows out a depression that stays full of water in the wet season and holds water after the rains stop. During the dry season, and particularly during extended droughts, gator holes provide vital water for fish, insects, crustaceans, snakes, turtles, birds, and other animals in addition to the alligator itself.

Sometimes, the alligator may expand its gator hole by digging beneath an overhanging bank to create a hidden den. After tunneling as far as 20 feet, it enlarges the end, making a chamber with a ceiling high enough above water level to permit breathing. This is not the alligator's nest but merely a way for the reptile to survive the dry season and winters.

The breeding season begins in the spring. Although alligators have no vocal cords, males bellow loudly to attract mates and warn off other males during this time by sucking air into their lungs and blowing it out in intermittent, deep-toned roars.

Safety Tips:

  1. Do not approach or feed an Alligator if you come across one. Feeding an Alligator will associate food with humans, and make them more dangerous. It is also against the law.

  2. Any fresh water lake or pond may contain alligators in Florida. Alligators move freely from lake to lake and no pond or lake should be considered alligator free.

  3. Swim with a partner and stay in designated swimming areas. Do not swim in waters with alligators under any circumstances....

  4. Do not take children or small pets near lakes unattended by an adult.

  5. Do not swim at dusk or at night. Alligators are nocturnal and are out looking for food at night.

  6. Avoid areas with lots of vegetation on the shoreline, this is where alligators hang out. Alligators are surprisingly agile on land..

  7. During mating season in the spring, and nesting during the summer, alligators can become very aggressive and territorial. This is when alligators are the most dangerous to humans. In one week of 2006 there were 3 deaths by alligators in Florida. Once again, do not approach an alligator ever.

  8. Alligators will from time to time come into neighborhoods. Call the Game and Fresh Water FIsh Commission if you see one in your neighborhood. If the alligator appears aggressive, call the police or 911.

  9. Do not attempt to kill or move an alligator if you see one. It is against state law and can result in being bitten or injured by the alligator.

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