An average American alligator's weight and length is 800 lbs.
and 13 feet long. According to the Everglades National Park
website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17
feet 5 inches long (5.3 meters). The largest alligator ever
recorded measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 meters) and was found on
Marsh Island, Louisiana. Few of the giant specimens were
weighed, but the larger ones could have exceeded a ton in
weight. The Chinese Alligator is smaller, rarely exceeding 7
feet (2 meters) in length.
An alligator's lifespan is usually estimated in the range of 50 years or more. A specimen named Muja has resided in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia since 1937, making it at least 70 years old. And in Riga Zoo, Latvia an alligator has been living since 1935.
There are only two countries on Earth that have alligators: the United States and China.
The American Alligators normally live along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida as well as Arkansas, Georgia and the Carolinas. However in the last few years, the alligators range appears to be increasing northward. Alligators have been seen as far north as Memphis, Tennessee, presumably arriving there by swimming up the Mississippi River. The majority of American Alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana. In Florida alone there are estimated to be more than one million alligators. The United States is the only nation on earth where both alligators and crocodiles live side by side. American Alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, and swamps, as well as brackish environments.
The Chinese alligator is endangered and lives only in the Yangtze River valley though currently Rockefeller Wildlife refuge in southern Louisiana has several in captivity in an attempt to preserve the species. There are only estimated to be a couple of dozen left in the wild. There are many more of these alligators in zoos around the world than in the wild.
Large male alligators are solitary, territorial animals. Smaller alligators can often be found in large numbers in close proximity to each other. The largest of the species (both males and females), will defend prime territory; smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class.
Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles per hour, though this could more properly be classified as a short fast lunge rather than a dash. Alligators' main prey are smaller animals that they can kill and eat with a single bite. Alligators may kill larger prey by grabbing it and dragging it in the water to drown. Alligators consume food that cannot be eaten in one bite by allowing it to rot or by biting and then spinning or convulsing wildly until bite-size pieces are torn off. This is referred to as the "death roll."
Most of the muscle in an alligator's jaw is intended for biting and gripping prey. The muscles that close the jaws are exceptionally powerful, however the muscles for opening their jaws are relatively weak. As a result, an adult man can hold an alligator's jaw shut with his bare hands. In general, a simple rubber band is enough to prevent an adult alligator from opening its jaws.
Alligators are generally timid towards humans and tend to walk or swim away if one approaches. Unfortunately, this has led to humans growing arrogant and approaching alligators and their nests in a way that provokes them. There are laws against feeding the alligators but some people continue to feed them nevertheless, resulting in some of the alligators losing their fear of humans and in turn, choosing to approach humans instead of moving away.
Alligators are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch. When they are young they eat fish, insects, snails, and crustaceans. As they grow, they take progressively larger prey items, including larger fish such as gar, turtles, various mammals, birds, and other reptiles. Their stomachs also often contain gastroliths. They will even consume carrion if they are sufficiently hungry. Adult alligators can take razorbacks and deer and are well known to kill and eat smaller alligators. In some cases, larger alligators have been known to hunt the Florida panther and bears, making it the apex predator throughout its distribution. As humans encroach onto their habitat, attacks on humans are few but not unknown. Alligators, unlike the large crocodiles, do not immediately regard a human upon encounter as prey.
Human deaths caused by alligators have increased. While there were only nine fatal attacks in the U.S.A. between 1970 and 2000, eleven people were killed by alligators in the five years between 2001 and 2006 alone. Alligators do tend to be wary of humans, but overconfidence has led some people to enter the animals' habitat in ways that provoke aggression.
The maturity of the alligator is dependent more upon the size of
the animal than its age. An alligator is generally considered
mature when it reaches a length of six feet or more. They are
seasonal breeders. The mating season is in spring when the water
warms. The female builds a nest of vegetation that rots,
incubating the eggs. Sex is fully determined at the time of
hatching and irreversible thereafter, and depends on the
temperature of egg incubation, temperatures of 30 °C producing
females, of 34 °C yielding only males. The temperature-sensitive
period is between seven and 21 days of incubation. Natural nests
constructed on levees are hotter (34 °C) than those constructed
on wet marsh (30 °C); thus, the former tend to produce males and
the latter, females. The natural sex ratio at hatching is five
females to one male. Females hatched from eggs incubated at 30
°C weigh significantly more than males hatched from eggs
incubated at 34 °C. The mother will defend the nest from
predators and will assist the babies to water once they hatch.
She will provide protection to the young for about a year if
they remain in the area. The largest threat to young alligators
are adults, accounting for nearly a fifty percent mortality rate
in some cases. Incidentally, in the past there have been
population explosions of alligators in the years following the
outlawing of alligator hunting, as the young gators have a
greater chance of surviving to adulthood once much of the
previous adult generation had been killed off.
Alligator farming is a big and growing industry in Florida, Texas and Louisiana. These states produce a combined annual total of some 45,000 alligator hides. Alligator hides bring good prices and hides in the 6-7 foot range have sold for $300 each, though the price can fluctuate considerably from year to year. The market for alligator meat is growing and approximately 300,000 pounds of meat is produced annually. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture, raw alligator meat contains roughly 200 calories per 3oz serving size, of which 27 calories come from fat.
While alligators are often confused with crocodiles, they belong to two quite separate taxonomic families, and are as distinct from one another as humans are from gorillas. As for appearance, one generally reliable rule is that alligators have U-shaped heads, while crocodiles are V-shaped - which can be remembered by noting that "A" in alligator comes before "C" in crocodile, and "U" comes before "V". Crocodiles have a longer narrower snout, with eyes further forward. Also, if one looks at an alligator and then a crocodile, one will notice a difference in their mouths: only the upper teeth are visible when an alligator's mouth is closed, while a crocodile's mouth will reveal both upper and lower teeth, as their fourth tooth sticks out from the lower jaw, rather than fitting neatly into the upper jaw. Crocodiles also tend to have green eyes, while alligators have brown ones.
Another distinction can be drawn between the jaws of the two animals. Crocodiles' jaws are much more narrow and are used to tear and grip on prey. By contrast, alligators' jaws are meant to crush bones, and can deliver a bite force of up to 3000psi (20MPa).
This Alligator Page is Copyright The Animal Web Guide © 2004 - 2009 Chuck Ayoub