The American alligator faced extinction in the last century because of hunting pressures, but now its survival seems assured.
Young American alligators feed on insects, small fish and frogs. As they get bigger, they begin to take larger prey, such as turtles and water birds. Adults feed on land as well as in water. They are opportunistic feeders, attacking anything that comes within reach. They even leap up to snatch birds perching on low branches.
During cold weather, American alligators become dormant in burrows dug into mud banks. In dry periods, they will travel long distances to find water, sometimes ending up in swimming pools.
The American alligator has a broad snout. Unlike other crocodilians, the fourth teeth on either side of its lower jaw are not visible, since they fit into sockets in the upper jaw when the mouth closes.
Alligators are surprisingly noisy creatures. They communicate by roaring and bellowing, and slap their jaws in the water. These sound waves may be detected underwater by other alligators. They impact on the landscape of their habitat, digging what are called "gator holes", and thus creating small ponds. Their eggs are laid in spring, and covered with a mound of decomposing vegetation, which gives off heat and acts as a natural incubator.
After mating, the female makes a mound of vegetation and mud above the high waterline and lays her eggs in a hole in the top. When she hears the hatchlings calling, she breaks open the nest and carries her young to the water. They stay with their mother for about a year.
Distribution: Occurs in the southeastern USA, concentrated largely in the states of Florida and Louisiana, also occurring in Texas, Alabama and Georgia, in wetlands and swamps.
Habitat: Swamps and rivers.
Weight: 453 - 500 kg (1000 - 1100 lb); males are much bigger
Length: 3 - 4.6 m (10 - 15 ft)
Maturity: About 10 years, at 3m (9.8 ft) long
Number of Eggs: 25 - 60 per clutch.
Incubation Period: Around 63 days; females watch over their newly hatched young, carrying them to water
Food: Predatory, feeding on fish, turtles, snakes, amphibians, mammals; youngsters hunt amphibians, fish and invertebrates
Lifespan: 40 - 60 years.
The tail moves from side to side in the water when the alligator is swimming. The tail is half the body's length.
The webbed toes help the alligator to swim.
These extend down the back, reinforcing the tough skin.
The head is broad, with a blunt snout and nostrils located high up.
On the move
Alligators are able to move on land, becoming a nuisance in some areas, hauling themselves out on to golf courses, for example.
ALLIGATOR OR CROCODILE?
The lower teeth of alligators are hidden in the mouth when the jaw is closed, but visible in crocodiles, which also have longer snouts.