American Alligator

Common Name:
American Alligator
Scientific Name:
Alligator mississippiensis
Type:
Reptiles
Diet:
Carnivore
Group Name:
Congregation
Average Life Span In The Wild:
35 to 50 years
Size:
10 to 15 feet
Weight:
1,000 pounds
IUCN Red List Status:
Least concern
Current Population Trend:
Unknown

The American alligator is a rare success story of an endangered animal not only saved from extinction but now thriving. State and federal protections, habitat preservation efforts, and reduced demand for alligator products have improved the species' wild population to more than one million and growing today.

Prehistoric Characteristics

One look at these menacing predators—with their armored, lizard-like bodies, muscular tails, and powerful jaws—and it is obvious they are envoys from the distant past. The species, scientists say, is more than 150 million years old, managing to avoid extinction 65 million years ago when their prehistoric contemporaries, the dinosaurs, died off.

Life in the Water

American alligators reside nearly exclusively in the freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes of the southeastern United States, primarily Florida and Louisiana.

Heavy and ungainly out of water, these reptiles are supremely well adapted swimmers. Males average 10 to 15 feet in length and can weigh 1,000 pounds. Females grow to a maximum of about 9.8 feet.

Reproduction

Hatchlings are 6 to 8 inches long with yellow and black stripes. Juveniles, which are on the menu for dozens of predators, including birds, raccoons, bobcats, and even other alligators, usually stay with their mothers for about two years.

Diet

Adult alligators are apex predators critical to the biodiversity of their habitat. They feed mainly on fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals. However, they are opportunists, and a hungry gator will eat just about anything, including carrion, pets and, in rare instances, humans.

This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
This photo was submitted to Your Shot, our photo community on Instagram. Follow us on Instagram at @natgeoyourshot or visit us at natgeo.com/yourshot for the latest submissions and news about the community.
Photograph by brittney powers, National Geographic Your Shot

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