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American alligator

Alligator

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American alligator

Family: Alligatoridae
Length: 4 m
Weight: 200 kg
Sexual maturity: 6 years
Lifespan: 50 years

  • Broad head and flat snout
  • Sturdy and thickset body
  • Powerful tail
  • Back covered in scales and bony plates
  • Short legs
  • Excellent swimmer

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is a crocodilian reptile, along with the crocodile, the gharial (or gavial) and the caiman. It is found in hot and humid regions of the south-eastern United States, primarily in Florida and Louisiana. The only other species of alligator is the Chinese alligator, much smaller than its American counterpart.

Alligator or crocodile?

Alligator

The alligator’s head is broad and U-shaped. Its eyes are brown and the teeth of its lower jaw remain invisible when the mouth is closed. A crocodile’s head is narrow and V-shaped. Its eyes are green and its teeth remain visible when the mouth is closed.

Lounging in the sun

The American alligator lives in swamps, bayous, rivers and lakes. Occasionally, it visits brackish waters. This freshwater reptile is fond of lounging in the sun, and on very hot days, it cools off by keeping its mouth open.

Babbler of the bayous

No other reptile is as talkative as the alligator and its crocodilian cousins. Equipped with a complex vocal system, it can exchange messages with fellow alligators to warn of danger or to attract a mate during breeding season. Its guttural bellow can be heard over 150 m away.

Temperature determines sex

The mating display takes place in spring. The male bellows to seduce, but the female chooses her partner. In June or July, the female builds a nest using vegetation and mud. She lays 30 to 50 eggs, which incubate for 60 days beneath a cover of vegetation. The temperature during incubation determines the sex of the hatchlings.

Maternal instinct

AlligatorAs soon as the eggs hatch, the female leads the baby alligators to water. Endowed with a strong maternal instinct, she protects them with great care. Juveniles, which are particularly active and mischievous, leave their mother only after reaching two years of age. Measuring 20 cm at birth, they grow by 30 cm a year until adulthood.

Invincible?

This apex predator is a solitary animal that defends its territory. Smaller varieties are more tolerant and tend to live in groups. A natural swimmer, the alligator is somewhat clumsy on dry land. Protected by a thick skin that makes it almost invincible, the adult does not need to worry about predators, unless they’re human.

Formidable jaws

Lurking in the water, the alligator is a silent and agile hunter. No prey can withstand its formidable jaws. The alligator prefers to hunt prey that it can devour in one bite. When it catches larger prey, it drowns the victim before tearing it into bite-size pieces.

Carnivore and cannibal

This large carnivore is equally fond of mammals, birds and reptiles. In times of food shortage, it can also resort to feeding on carrion. The alligator will sometimes take down a razorback or deer, and can also practice cannibalism by attacking smaller members of its own species.

From endangered to protected

AlligatorDuring many decades of intensive hunting, countless alligators ended up as handbags or footwear. Destruction of their habitat from human activity also contributed to the decline of the species. Only conservation measures were able to save the alligator, which today is no longer threatened.

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