The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is found in the Southeastern U.S., from North Carolina to Texas. They live in relatively slow rivers, lakes and wetlands.
As adults, male alligators can reach up to 4.5 meters in length (it was recorded a maximum length of 5.6 meters), the females are smaller, reaching 3 meters in length. The head is relatively broad and flat, the snout is rounded and the fourth tooth of the lower jaw is hidden when the animal closes its mouth.
This being one of the most notorious characteristics that easily distinguishes the alligators (family Alligatoridae) from crocodiles (family Crocodilidae). Crocodilians, in general, they have very sharp conical teeth, usually have 28 to 32 teeth in the lower jaw and 30 to 40 teeth in the upper jaw, so an adult can have about 70 to 80 teeth.
The skin is gray and black and is covered by horny scales and . They feature inter-digital membranes and strong claws. Alligators catch and tear their prey with their sharp teeth, but do not chew, and swallow large pieces of meat or the whole prey at once. They are more active during the day.
These reptiles do not feed during the colder months. In general, during the winter, alligators hibernate in burrows built by themselves and survive on the fat reserves they have accumulated over the summer.
Studies in captivity revealed that they begin to lose their appetite when the temperature is below 27 degrees and that cease to feed when temperatures are below 23 degrees. Even at subzero temperatures, the alligator can survive leaving only his nostrils above water (if they are fully covered by ice, they can go up to eight hours without breathing, due to a large decrease in metabolic rate).
There are records of attacks on humans, although these are relatively uncommon and usually occur as a defense of the territory or its offspring.
American Alligator - Diet
As juveniles alligators feed on invertebrates (insects and crustaceans), amphibians and fish. Adults alligators also eat, snakes, turtles, mammals (including offspring from cattle), birds and carcasses. Cannibalism may occur adults will eat juveniles of their own species).
American Alligator - Reproduction
Alligators reach sexual maturity at an average length of 1.9 meters, that is, between 7 and 15 years of age in males, and between 9 to 18 years of age in females (the growth is faster in males and in areas further south the area of distribution of this species).
Alligators are an oviparous species. Mating occurs in late dry season or early wet season. Males attract females vibrating water on their back, with the assistance of the scales. The mating ritual is usually initiated by the female. In this ritual, which can last for hours, partners push each other and pushes each other's head and neck in order to assess their strength. Mating occurs in water.
There is polygamy (the male mates with more than one female during the same breeding season). The female builds a nest of mud and rotting vegetation, in a sheltered location near the the margin where it lays 20-60 eggs (on average 35 to 40). The incubation period is about 65 days.
The female progenitor guards the nest during this period and, after hatching, she will follow its offspring for one to three years. However, despite its careful protection, juveniles are often hunted by raccoons, birds, large fish and other adult alligators.
American Alligator - Conservation status and major threats:
The species is not threatened globally (according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature). It belongs to the CITES Appendix II. Despite the intense hunting of which was the target, since the eighteenth century until the mid-twentieth century, for their skin trading and the alligator meat.
Today the species is relatively common due to the implementation of protection legislation, and are even bred in captivity.
There have been recently detected high levels of mercury (an aquatic pollutant) in some individuals, which may compromise the long-term conservation of this species. The expansion of agricultural areas is another important factor in the threat.
The american alligator is also threatened by some large invasive species, notably the biggest snakes like the African rock python (Python sebae), reticulated python (Python reticulatus) or the Burmese python.
Facts about crocodiles for kids
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Freshwater crocodile facts
Alligator facts for kids
Did you know?
Crocodiles like the extinct dinosaurs live on the planet Earth for 240 million years.