Alligator (Genus Alligator)
So what exactly is an alligator? Well, you might already know that it is a massive reptile that is a part of the Alligatoridae family, but did you know that these amazing creatures have been around for about 37 million years? We know, we didn’t think they were that old, either!
There are also only two species that are still alive to this day, the American alligator, which you’ll find lots of information on if you keep reading, and the Chinese alligator which is just as interesting.
Another interesting fact about these animals is where their name came from. Now, you might think it’s derived from Latin, but many people actually think it was derived from the Spanish word el lagarto which means ‘the lizard’. Quite fitting if you ask me!
What Does an Alligator Look Like? (Physical Description)
Male alligators and female alligators both have a similar build and have armored bodies, as well as fairly muscular tails. The bony plates on their backs are often referred to as scutes.
We all know about their four little legs, but if you don’t like the idea of feet, maybe don’t read this next sentence! Their front legs are just like ours, and they have five toes, whereas their back legs have only four toes!
They have rounded snouts which help them with underwater breathing because of their nostrils that face upwards.
You’ll find that a baby alligator will have bright yellow stripes on their tails, whilst adult alligators will have darker stripes.
Those sharp lower teeth aren’t seen when their mouths are closed, which makes them slightly less menacing to look at, and there are around 74 to 80 teeth in those jaws! Believe it or not, alligators can grow around 3000 teeth in their lifetimes!
The alligator’s evolution is actually really interesting, so let’s take a look. Lots of you may know that alligators are actually a living link to the dinosaurs, which is pretty cool!
Alligator mississippiensis (the American alligator), split from the Chinese alligator roughly 33 million years ago – ooft! They are reptiles too, and date all the way back to the Jurassic period.
We don’t know about you, but that is super cool! If you see an alligator, maybe don’t approach it like a pet, but think how cool it is that what’s in front of you is from the period of the dinosaurs!
Now, we’re pretty sure you didn’t dissect alligators or study alligator nests during your biology lessons in school, so let’s take a look at their anatomy quickly!
You may be shocked that all reptiles breathe and respire with their lungs – just like us! Amphibians, on the other hand, mostly tend to do gas exchange through their moist or slimy skin. However, alligators have dry skin to prevent them from drying out – similar to us, apart from the scales, of course!
They also have a brain, a trachea, an esophagus, a liver, a stomach, a testis, and a spleen. Weirdly enough, their anatomy is pretty similar to ours, although we’re not green, or scaly for that matter!
How Big Do Alligators Get?
Female alligators are usually smaller alligators than males, but nonetheless, they can both grow pretty big, which is great when they’re after their prey species.
On average, males will size up to about 11.2 feet in length and females at 8.2 feet. If you think about it, that’s pretty long!
In terms of weight, female alligators come in at around 201 pounds whilst some males can grow to be around 1000 pounds – now that is crazy!
Taxonomic Hierarchy of Alligator
So for all of you that did pay attention in biology class, you’ll probably know what we’re talking about, and for all of you that didn’t, we know how you feel. But let’s get right into it, this is the taxonomic hierarchy of the American Alligator.
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Reptilia
- Order: Crocodilia
- Family: Alligatoridae
- Genus: Alligator
- Species: Alligator mississippiensis
This stays mostly the same for all species of alligators, but the species name changes, so the Chinese Alligator is called the Alligator sinensis but what about some of the extinct alligators?
Well, these are called:
- Alligator hailensis
- Alligator mcgrewi
- Alligator mefferdi
- Alligator olseni
- Alligator prenasalis
- Alligator thomsoni
We know all these names can look a little intimidating, but luckily for you, most animals go by their common names, so you’re all good calling them American and Chinese alligators, no need for anything fancier!
American alligators inhabit Florida, but they can be found across quite a big part of America, from North Carolina all the way down to Texas.
They also tend to live in many different bodies of water, but this usually consists of slow-moving rivers, swamps, and lakes. These habitats will be fresh water because alligators don’t deal well with salt water thanks to their lack of salt glands.
It’s not very often you’ll see an American Alligator on land, they’re not brilliant at the whole walking on the solid ground thing, which is why you will usually always see them in the water.
These animals also have webbed feet and strong tails, which help them become great swimmers, so why would they spend more time on land than is necessary?
Behavior of Alligators
We all know that alligators are predators, but they’re also nocturnal creatures which means that they’re awake at night. That’s why you see that most alligator attacks happen at night time, unless when they’ve been pestered in the day by fools.
They enjoy lying next to the water’s edge with their pals to sun themselves during the day. But nighttime is when they’re ready to pounce. They all go into the water and find their own little territory, enjoying the lonely life at night and looking for their prey.
What do American Alligators Eat?
American alligators or alligator mississippiensis tend to feed on whatever’s around them – that’s the way to live, right?
The prey that they eat is also high in populations around them, so there quite literally is plenty of fish in the sea!
Juveniles mainly eat insects, small fish, amphibians as well as other small invertebrates. What’s an invertebrate? It’s simply an organism that doesn’t have a backbone.
Adult alligator’s teeth are much more developed in comparison to juveniles, so it’s definitely easier to chew through those bigger creatures!
Adults tend to eat snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, and rough fish – you can tell that they’re much more ruthless than juveniles!
Is Alligator a Mammal?
Despite their anatomy being quite similar to some mammals, alligators are actually reptiles!
They’re part of the Crocodylia order and family Alligatoridae and are fairly large in comparison to other familiar reptiles.
Lots of people do tend to get alligators and crocodiles confused, and this is perfectly normal. However, if you’re keen to learn about the differences between crocodiles and alligators, then there’s plenty of information available on crocodiles! Don’t worry – there’s some in this article too!
Characteristics of American Alligator
We’ve spoken about this already briefly, and the range of the alligator’s weight can vary a good deal. But what’s the average weight? For female builds, you’ll be looking at roughly 200 pounds, whereas males are a bit bigger!
Of course, crocodiles vary in weight, just like any other species, and some of them can even grow to 1000 pounds!
Alligators also have different colors, but you’ll mostly find them coming in dark gray with a lighter belly. American alligators may be a bit browner!
However, younger individuals and young alligators may have lighter stripes on the sides for extra camouflage.
Isn’t it pretty cool to think that alligators are a living link with the dinosaurs? We don’t know about you, but that’s brilliant and absolutely fascinating to us!
The alligator has adapted a lot through the years, and you can see that in different pictures throughout the years. Some examples are their broad snout and their tails. It’s certainly worth looking at pictures through the millennia to see how these alligators have changed but also stayed the same!
Alligator Life Expectancy
Believe it or not, wild alligators are estimated to live for around 50 years! This age will increase a bit more when they reach the 4-foot in length mark.
After this, they’ll be safe from any other alligators or predators eating or attacking them. The only place they may find the risk is from us humans, so let’s be careful around these unique creatures.
Life in Water
Alligators mostly live in freshwater. It’s true that they can live in saltwater for a little bit of time, but they prefer fresh water.
So, they tend to live in places like rivers, swamps, streams, and lakes. If you know you live somewhere with alligators, then make sure you keep an eye out in these places for the young alligators and their family, Alligatoridae!
These creatures love living in groups, and the young alligators are certainly a great deal more sociable than the adult alligator.
The reason the newly hatching alligators are more social is that they like having the safety of other young around them. It’s also a really good way of providing protection against other reptiles and predators.
As we’ve mentioned, alligators are nocturnal, meaning they’re most active at night. However, they can still be active during the day as well as have a sleep!
There’s no doubt that these alligators really do love their sleep as they normally sleep 17 hours in a day – imagine getting that much!
Reproduction and Development
Now, alligators tend to reproduce sexually but using internal fertilization. This is because they’re oviparous, which means that females lay eggs and wait for them to hatch.
American alligators, in particular, breed seasonally, which means that they breed once every year. This season opens in roughly April and ends in around June!
Commercial Usage of Alligators
One way us humans tend to use alligators commercially is through alligator meat. It’s used a good bit in the Southern United States, and believe it or not, alligator eggs are too! They’ve been used in southern cuisine since the mid-1800s.
Alligator leather is also used commercially. During the 1800s, this animal’s leather was used to make clothes, boots, and other things, and they have continued to be used commercially ever since.
Alligators Vs Crocodiles
It’s true that alligators and crocodiles can look fairly similar, but they are different! But, what are these key differences?
Difference number one is the color. Alligators are much darker than crocodiles and have a wider snout than crocs.
We’ve briefly mentioned the teeth of the alligator and how they’re different from crocodiles. In fact, the lower jaw teeth of the alligator have a special way of slotting into the top part of its jaw, making it appear much less menacing and scary than a crocodile.
Crocodile’s teeth don’t slot in like this, so you can see every single one of those teeth.
You may think that the alligator is more menacing and vicious than the crocodile, but in a shocking turn of events – the crocodile is a bit more dangerous!