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American Alligator
An American Alligator in captivity at the Columbus Zoo, in Powell, Ohio
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodilia
Family: Alligatoridae
Genus: Alligator
Species: A. mississippiensis
Binomial name
Alligator mississippiensis
(Daudin, 1801)
American Alligator range map

The American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis, (known colloquially as simply gator) is one of the two living species of Alligator, a genus within the family Alligatoridae. The American Alligator is native only to the Southern United States, where it inhabits wetlands that frequently overlap with human-populated areas. It is larger than the other extant alligator species, the Chinese Alligator.



Forelimb showing the large claws and slight webbing between the toes.
Tail which is for aquatic propulsion and as a weapon of defense

The American Alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. They generally have an olive, brown, gray or nearly black color with a creamy white underside. Algae-laden waters produce greener skin, while tannic acid from overhanging trees can produce often darker skin.[2] Adult male alligators are typically 11.2 to 14.5 ft (3.4 to 4.4 m) in length;but it is highly unlikely that these animals exceed 14 feet, while adult females average 8.2 to 9.8 ft (2.5 to 3.0 m).[3][4][5] One American Alligator allegedly reached a length of 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 m),[6] which would have made it the largest ever recorded, but this has never been verified or even supported by reliable information and is considered highly unlikely by experts. The tail, which accounts for half of the alligator's total length, is primarily used for aquatic propulsion. The tail can also be used as a weapon of defense when an alligator feels threatened. Alligators travel very quickly in water and while they are generally slow-moving on land, alligators can lunge short distances very quickly. They have five claws on each front foot and four on each rear foot. American Alligators have the strongest laboratory measured bite of any living animal, measured at up to 9,452 newtons (2,125 lbf) in laboratory conditions. It should be noted that this experiment has not (at the time of the paper published) been replicated in any other crocodilians.[7] Some alligators are missing an inhibited gene for melanin, which makes them albino. These alligators are extremely rare and practically impossible to find in the wild. They could survive only in captivity. Like all albino animals, they are very vulnerable to the sun and predators.[8] American Alligators can remain underwater for several hours if not actively swimming or hunting (then it's only about 20 minutes); they do this by rerouting blood to reduce circulation to the lungs, and thus the need for oxygen


American alligators are mostly found in the Southeastern United States, from Great Dismal Swamp in Virginia/North Carolina south to Everglades National Park in Florida and west to the southern tip of Texas. They are found in the U.S. states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, Virginia and Oklahoma. Florida and Louisiana currently have the largest population of alligators. Florida has an estimated population of 1 to 1.5 million while Louisiana has an estimated population of 1.5 to 2 million.

Although primarily freshwater animals, alligators will occasionally venture into brackish water.[9] Alligators live in wetlands and this is the 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 apex predators, they help control the population of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.

American alligators are less susceptible to cold than American Crocodiles. Unlike the American Crocodile which would quickly succumb and drown in water of 45 °F (7.2 °C), an alligator can survive in such temperatures for some time without apparent discomfort.[10] It is thought that this adaptiveness is the reason why American alligators spread farther north than the American Crocodile.[10] In fact, the American alligator is found farther from the equator and is more equipped to deal with cooler conditions than any other crocodilian.[11]

In Florida, alligators face ambient temperature patterns unlike elsewhere in their range. The consistently high temperatures lead to increased metabolic cost. Alligators in the Everglades have reduced length to weight ratio, reduced total length, and delayed onset of sexual maturity compared with other parts of their range. The reason for this poor condition is currently suspected to be a combination of low food availability and sustained high temperatures.


Alligators are apex predators capable of killing large terrestrial prey. This large American alligator has caught an adult deer.

Alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals, and amphibians. Hatchlings are restricted to smaller prey items like invertebrates. Insects and larvae, snails, spiders, and worms make-up a big portion of a hatchling's diet. They will also eat small fish at any opportunity. As they grow, they gradually move onto larger fish, mollusks, frogs and small mammals like rats, and mice. Some adult alligators take a larger variety of prey ranging from a snake or turtle to a bird and moderate sized mammals like a raccoon or deer.

Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to the water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will eat razorbacks, deer, dogs of all sizes, livestock including cattle and sheep, and are often known to kill and eat smaller alligators. In rare instances, large male alligators have been known to take down a Florida panther and an American Black Bear, making the American alligator the apex predator throughout its distribution.[12] The American alligator is known as King of the Everglades. although the American Crocodile (which shares parts of the Everglades with the Alligator) is capable of growing larger (over 5 meters), at least in tropical locations like Central America.

The gizzards (stomachs) of alligators often contain gastroliths. The function of these stones is to grind up food in the stomach and help with digestion. This is important because gators swallow their food whole. These gastroliths are also used in buoyancy control.

In 2002, the bite force on a 12 foot alligator was measured to be about 2100 pounds-force (9.3 kilonewtons).[13] American Alligator cruise through water at just over 1 mph (0.4 m/s); in pursuit of prey can swim much faster over short distances


Young American Alligator swimming, showing the distinctive yellow striping found on juveniles.

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.

Male alligators are also known to use infrasound during their mating behavior, as one of their routines is to engage in bellowing in infrasound while their head and tail is above the water, with their midsection very slightly submerged, making the surface of the water that is directly over their back literally "sprinkle" from their infrasound bellowing, in a so-called "water dance".[14]

Young American Alligators basking.

The female builds a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot in or near the water. After she lays her 20 to 50 white, goose-egg-sized eggs, she covers them under more vegetation, which, like mulch, heats as it decays, helping to keep the eggs warm. This differs from Nile crocodiles who lay their eggs in pits.[10] The temperature at which alligator eggs develop determines their sex. Those eggs which are hatched in temperatures ranging from 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 34 °C) turn out to be male, while those in temperatures from 82 to 86 °F (23 to 30 °C) end up being female. Intermediate temperature ranges have proven to yield a mix of both male and females. The female will remain near the nest throughout the 65-day incubation period, protecting the nest from intruders. When the young begin to hatch they emit a high-pitched croaking noise, and the female quickly digs them out.

The young, which are tiny replicas of adult alligators with a series of yellow bands around their bodies, then find their way to water. For several days they continue to live on yolk masses within their bellies. The baby spends about 5 months with the mother before leaving her. Animals that eat the young include snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, largemouth bass and American black bears. The full grown gator grows up to hunt these same animals for food.

Alligators reach breeding maturity at about 8 to 13 years of age, at which time they are about 6 to 7 feet (1.8–2.1 m) long. From then on, growth continues at a slower rate. The oldest males may grow to be 16 feet (4.85 m)[15] long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds (510 kg) during a lifespan of 30 or more years. A recent study by scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in South Carolina reveals that up to 70 percent of A. mississippiensis females chose to remain with their partner, often for many years.[16]

Alligators and humans

Alligators are capable of killing humans, but are generally wary enough not to see them as a potential prey. Alligator bites are serious injuries due to the risk of infection. Inadequate treatment or neglect of an alligator bite may result in an infection that necessitates amputation of a limb.[citation needed] The alligator's tail is a fearsome weapon capable of knocking a person down and breaking bones. Alligators are protective parents who will protect their young by attacking anything that comes too close or looks like it's aggressive and could kill one of the baby alligators.

Since 1948, there have been more than 275 unprovoked attacks on humans in Florida, of which at least 17 resulted in death.[17] There were only nine fatal attacks in the U.S. throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but alligators killed 12 people from 2001 to 2007. In May 2006, alligators killed three Floridians in four days, two of them in the same day.[18]

Teeth of an American alligator.

Several Florida tourist attractions have taken advantage of fears and myths about alligators—as well as the reality of their danger—through a practice known as alligator wrestling. Created in the early 20th century by some members of the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribe of Florida, this tourism tradition continues to the present day.

Endangered species recovery

An albino alligator could survive only in captivity.

Historically, alligators were depleted from many parts of their range as a result of market hunting and loss of habitat, and 30 years ago many people believed this unique reptile would never recover. In 1967, the alligator was listed as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it was considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

A combined effort by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms saved these unique animals. The Endangered Species Act outlawed alligator hunting, allowing the species to rebound in numbers in many areas where it had been depleted. As the alligator began to make a comeback, states established alligator population monitoring programs and used this information to ensure alligator numbers continued to increase. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service still regulates the legal trade in alligator skins and products made from them.

Although the American alligator is secure, some related animals — such as several species of crocodiles and caimans — are still in trouble.

An American alligator and a Burmese Python locked in struggle
A yawning Alligator mississippiensis, Collier County, Florida

Recently, a population of non-native Burmese Pythons has become established in Everglades National Park. While there have been observed events of predation by burmese pythons on alligators and vice versa, there is currently no evidence of a net negative effect on alligator populations.[19][20][21]


Alligator farming is a big and growing industry in Georgia, 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 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 m) 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 (140,000 kg) of meat is produced annually. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, raw alligator meat contains roughly 200 calories (840 kJ) per 3 ounces (85 g) serving size, of which 27 calories (130 kJ) come from fat.[22]

Alligator meat is sometimes used in jambalayas, soups, and stew.

See also


  1. ^ Crocodile Specialist Group (1996). Alligator mississippiensis. In: IUCN 1996. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Downloaded on 24 February 2009.
  2. ^ "Alligators at Animal Corner". Retrieved 2009-02-04. 
  3. ^ "Crocodilian Species — American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  4. ^ Woodward, Allan R.; White, John H.; Linda, Stephen B. (1995). "Maximum Size of the Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)". Journal of Herpetology 29 (4): 507–513. 
  5. ^ highmals/ReptilesAmphibians/Facts/FactSheets/Americanalligator.cfm
  6. ^ "Salt Grass Flats — American Alligator". Retrieved 2008-12-02. 
  7. ^ Erickson, Gregory M. (2003). "The ontogeny of bite-force performance in American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)" (PDF). Journal of Zoology 260 (3): 317–327. doi:10.1017/S0952836903003819. 
  8. ^ "White albino alligators". Retrieved 2008-10-27. 
  9. ^ "American Alligator". Retrieved 2008-12-02. 
  10. ^ a b c Guggisberg, C.A.W. (1972). Crocodiles: Their Natural History, Folklore, and Conservation. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. p. 195. ISBN 0715352725. 
  11. ^ Alligator physiology and life history: the importance of temperature, Valentine A. Lance. Experimental Gerontology, Vol. 38, Issue 7, July 2003, pp. 801-805.
  12. ^ "American Alligator". Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  13. ^ "Alligator's Bite Could Lift A Small Truck". ScienceDaily (March 29, 2002). Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  14. ^ February 11, 2008 (2008-02-11). "Gator Water Dance". YouTube. Retrieved 2009-03-03. 
  15. ^ "Animal Planet :: Australia Zoo — American Alligator". October 13, 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-14. 
  16. ^ "Alligator Mating (". Retrieved 2009-10-28. 
  17. ^ Living with Alligators, [1] on the Internet Archive
  18. ^ "A String of Deaths by Gators in Florida". Retrieved 2006-05-15. 
  19. ^ Gator-guzzling python comes to messy end. Published 2005-10-05 by Associated Press. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  20. ^ Butler, Rhett A. (2005-10-05 Python explodes after swallowing 6-foot alligator in Florida Everglades. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  21. ^ United States Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey (2008-02-20). USGS Maps Show Potential Non-Native Python Habitat Along Three U.S. Coasts. Retrieved 2008-03-11.
  22. ^ "Calories in Alligator, Crocodile". Retrieved 2008-12-11. 

External links



Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From Wikispecies

Alligator mississippiensis


Main Page
Cladus: Eukaryota
Supergroup: Unikonta
Cladus: Opisthokonta
Regnum: Animalia
Subregnum: Eumetazoa
Cladus: Bilateria
Cladus: Nephrozoa
Cladus: Deuterostomia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
Superclassis: Tetrapoda
Classis: Reptilia
Subclassis: Diapsida
Infraclassis: Archosauromorpha
Divisio: Archosauria
Subdivisio: Crurotarsi
Superordo: Crocodylomorpha
Ordo: Crocodilia
Subordo: Eusuchia
Familia: Alligatoridae
Subfamilia: Alligatorinae
Genus: Alligator
Species: Alligator mississippiensis


Alligator mississippiensis (Daudin, 1801)

Type locality: "les bords du Mississipi," U.S.A

Holotype: MNHN, according to Guibé (personal reply in Hemming, 1956)


  • Crocodilus mississipiensis Daudin, 1802
  • Crocodilus lucius Cuvier, 1807
  • Crocodilus cuvieri Leach, 1815
  • Alligator luciusDuméril & Bibron, 1836
  • Alligator mississippiensisHolbrook, 1842
  • Alligator mississipiensis (Daudin, 1801)
  • Alligator luciusClarke, 1888
  • Alligator mississippiensis — Conant & Collins, 1991


Vernacular names

Български: Американски алигатор
Česky: Aligátor severoamerický
Deutsch: Mississippi-Alligator
English: American Alligator
Español: Caimán americano
Français: alligator d'Amérique
Hrvatski: Američki aligator
עברית: אליגטור אמריקני
Nederlands: Amerikaanse alligator
日本語: アメリカアリゲーター
‪Norsk (bokmål)‬: Amerikansk alligatorl
Polski: Aligator missisipski, aligator amerykański
Português: Jacaré-americano
Русский: американский аллигатор
Suomi: Mississippinalligaattori
Svenska: Mississippialligator
Wikimedia Commons For more multimedia, look at Alligator mississippiensis on Wikimedia Commons.


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