Common Name: American alligator
Scientific Name: Alligator mississipiensis
Description: These heavy bodied reptiles are covered with a blackish-olive colored armor-like hide. Although not as long as their relatives the crocodile, alligators can get quite large. Record size is in excess of 5.8 meters. The long snout has eyes and nostrils located dorsally. This pattern enables the alligator to float along the waterline with normal vision and breathing.
question of how fast alligators move has generated many myths. While they
can move surprisingly fast for short bursts, alligators cannot run as
fast as a horse. According to University of Florida biologist Ken Vliet,
eleven miles per hour is their top speed. And even that would be for less
than fifty feet. In water, they swim about two miles an hour. Crocodiles
are a bit faster with a top sprint of over fifteen miles per hour.
Range: Southeastern United States: North Carolina to Texas.
Habitat: Freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and other still or slow-moving waterways.
Diet: Carnivorous. Juveniles eat small reptiles, crustaceans, small mammals, and birds. Adults eat fish, turtles, and small and large herbivores. Pet dogs often fall prey as well.
Social Life: Alligators create nests in which they lay eggs. A mature female may deposit as many as 55 to 60 eggs. Incubation is around 65 to 70 days. Mothers guard the nests during this time. Hatchlings are 18- 25 centimeters at birth. They typically stay together and several different age groups of alligators can often be found within a large parent's protection. Gregariousness declines as they mature, although similar size alligators often are seen basking together and, in times of drought, even more congregate with relative peace. Alligators have been verified living up to 69 years although much older ages have been reported.
Conservation: Originally protected in the 1960s because of exploitation from the leather trade. Once listed as endangered, the alligator has rebounded in numbers and has been reclassified to Appendix II.
Recommended LINKS & BOOKS
St. Augustine Alligator Farm St. Augustine Alligator Farm is the only place in the world featuring all 23 species of the planet's crocodilians. It's also accredited by the American Zoo and Aquarium Association.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Alligator Info includes contact numbers for nuisance alligators
A new book of extraordinary photography including the alligator's swampy habitat is Connie Bransilver and Larry Richardson's Florida's Unsung Wilderness: The Swamps.
A well-known standard written in 1935 is E.A. McIlhenny's The Alligator's Life History. It's currently out of print, so check your local library or used books. It's worth the effort to find.