The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is a large reptile, and also a crocodilian, in the Alligatoridae family and Crocodilia order. Crocodiles, alligators, gharial, and caimans are all crocodilians.
The American Alligator is dark grey, black or olive-brown, with a broad U-shaped snout (nose) and sharp, triangular teeth. Its teeth are not visible when its mouth is closed. Its underbelly is creamy-yellow. It has a long tail and short legs with claws.
The American Alligator can grow to about 4.6 metres (15 feet) long.
It is native to the southeastern part of North America.
When it walks on land, it can slide on its belly, or walk by lifting its body off the ground. These forms of locomotion are called the “low walk” or the “high walk.” It is a good swimmer. It swims like a fish, moving its tail from side to side.
It prefers freshwater wetlands, such as marshes and swamps. It is an apex predators (not many animals eat it, but it eats many animals). It feeds on fish, frogs, toads, reptiles, birds, and mammals. It attacks animals underwater and on land.
Its teeth are strong, and it can crush a tortoise or turtle’s shell, but it cannot rip meat apart. The American Alligator gulps its food down its throat.
The female lays 20-50 large, white eggs in a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot near water. Young alligators hatch after about 65 days, and are born with yellow bands around their bodies. They are protected by their mother for up to one year. For protection, the mother often carries her babies in her mouth for a short time. The young alligators eat small fish, frogs, and insects.
The temperature at which American Alligator eggs develop determines their sex. This is called temperature-dependent sex determination. Eggs which hatch at a temperature of 34°C (93°F) or more become males, while those at a temperature of 30°C (86°F) or lower become females.
Photographer: Martina Nicolls
Martina Nicolls: SIMILAR BUT DIFFERENT IN THE ANIMAL KINGDOM