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American Alligator

Kingdom

Animalia

Phylum

Chordata

Class

Reptilia

(Unranked)

Archosauria

Order

Crocodilia

Family

Alligatoridae

Genus

Alligator

Scientific Name

Alligator Missisipiensis

Diet

Carnivore

Range

  • North America: U.S.A.

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator, is a reptile endemic only to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two living species of alligator, in the genus Alligator, within the family Alligatoridae. It is larger than the other extant alligator species, the Chinese alligator.

The American alligator inhabits wetlands that frequently overlap with human-populated areas.

Description Edit

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator, is a reptile endemic only to the Southeastern United States. It is one of the two living species of alligator, in the genus Alligator, within the family Alligatoridae. It is larger than the other extant alligator species, the Chinese alligator.

The American alligator inhabits wetlands that frequently overlap with human-populated areas.

Habitat Edit

American alligators are mostly found in the Southeastern United States, from Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina south to Everglades National Park in Florida and west to the southern tip of Texas. They are found in the U.S. states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Florida and Louisiana currently have the largest population of alligators. Florida has an estimated population of 1 to 1.5 million while Louisiana has an estimated population of 1.5 million

Although primarily freshwater animals, alligators will occasionally venture into brackish water.[12] Alligators live in wetlands and this is the vital habitat that holds the key to their continued long-term survival. Alligators depend on the wetlands, and in some ways the wetlands depend on them. As apex predators, they help control the population of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.

American alligators are less susceptible to cold than American Crocodiles. Unlike the American Crocodile, which would quickly succumb to the cold and drown in water of 45 °F (7.2 °C), an alligator can survive in such temperatures for some time without apparent discomfort.[13] It is thought that this adaptiveness is the reason why American alligators spread farther north than the American Crocodile.[13] In fact, the American alligator is found farther from the equator and is more equipped to deal with cooler conditions than any other crocodilian.[14]

In Florida, alligators face ambient temperature patterns unlike elsewhere in their range. The consistently high temperatures lead to increased metabolic cost. Alligators in the Everglades have reduced length to weight ratio, reduced total length, and delayed onset of sexual maturity compared with other parts of their range. The reason for this poor condition is currently suspected to be a combination of low food availability and sustained high temperatures.

Diet Edit

Alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals, and amphibians. Hatchlings diet on invertebrates, insects, larvae, snails, spiders, worms, and other small prey. They will also eat small fish at any opportunity. As they grow, they gradually move on to larger fish, mollusks, frogs and small mammals like rats, and mice. Some adult alligators take a larger variety of prey ranging from a snake or turtle to a bird and moderate sized mammals like a raccoon or deer.

Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to the water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will eat wild boars, deer, dogs of all sizes, livestock including cattle and sheep, and are often known to kill and eat smaller alligators. In rare instances, large male alligators have been known to prey on young Florida panther and American black bear cubs, making the American alligator the apex predator throughout its distribution.[15] The American alligator is known as King of the Everglades, although the American crocodile, which shares parts of the Everglades with the alligator, is capable of growing larger (over 5 meters), mostly in warmer regions like Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Although fish and other prey taken in the water or at the water edge form the major part of alligator's diet, adult alligators also spend considerable time hunting on land, up to 50 m (170 feet) from water, ambushing terrestrial animals on trailsides and road shoulders on warm nights.[16]

The gizzards (stomachs) of alligators often contain gastroliths. The function of these stones is to grind up food in the stomach and help with digestion. This is important because gators swallow their food whole. These gastroliths are also used in buoyancy control.

In 2005, the bite force of a 12-foot (3.7 m), 450-pound (200 kg) alligator was measured to be 2209 pounds-force. It was measured by Greg Ericson.[17] American alligators cruise through water at just over 1 mph (0.4 m/s); in pursuit of prey they can swim much faster over short distances.

Reproduction Edit

Alligators eat fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals, and amphibians. Hatchlings diet on invertebrates, insects, larvae, snails, spiders, worms, and other small prey. They will also eat small fish at any opportunity. As they grow, they gradually move on to larger fish, mollusks, frogs and small mammals like rats, and mice. Some adult alligators take a larger variety of prey ranging from a snake or turtle to a bird and moderate sized mammals like a raccoon or deer.

Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to the water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will eat wild boars, deer, dogs of all sizes, livestock including cattle and sheep, and are often known to kill and eat smaller alligators. In rare instances, large male alligators have been known to prey on young Florida panther and American black bear cubs, making the American alligator the apex predator throughout its distribution.[15] The American alligator is known as King of the Everglades, although the American crocodile, which shares parts of the Everglades with the alligator, is capable of growing larger (over 5 meters), mostly in warmer regions like Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean.

Although fish and other prey taken in the water or at the water edge form the major part of alligator's diet, adult alligators also spend considerable time hunting on land, up to 50 m (170 feet) from water, ambushing terrestrial animals on trailsides and road shoulders on warm nights.[16]

The gizzards (stomachs) of alligators often contain gastroliths. The function of these stones is to grind up food in the stomach and help with digestion. This is important because gators swallow their food whole. These gastroliths are also used in buoyancy control.

In 2005, the bite force of a 12-foot (3.7 m), 450-pound (200 kg) alligator was measured to be 2209 pounds-force. It was measured by Greg Ericson.[17] American alligators cruise through water at just over 1 mph (0.4 m/s); in pursuit of prey they can swim much faster over short distances.
220px-Alligator mississippiensis 2 babies

Young American Alligators basking.

220px-Crocnest

Alligator nest and young in Florida.

The female builds a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot in or near the water. After she lays her 20 to 50 white, goose egg-sized eggs, she covers them under more vegetation, which, like mulch, heats as it decays, helping to keep the eggs warm. This differs from Nile crocodiles who lay their eggs in pits.[13]

The temperature at which alligator eggs develop determines their sex. Those eggs which are hatched in temperatures ranging from 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit (32 to 34 °C) become males, while those in temperatures from 82 to 86 °F (23 to 30 °C) become female. Intermediate temperature ranges have proven to yield a mix of both male and females. The female will remain near the nest throughout the 65-day incubation period, protecting the nest from intruders. When the young begin to hatch they emit a high-pitched croaking noise, and the mother quickly digs them out.
220px-Alligator mississippiensis baby

Juvenile American alligator swimming, showing the distinctive yellow striping found on juveniles.

The young are tiny replicas of adult alligators with a series of yellow bands around their bodies. They find their way to water after hatching. For several days they continue to live on yolk masses within their stomachs. The baby spends about five months with the mother before leaving her. Snapping turtles, snakes, raccoons, largemouth bass and American black bears prey upon the young. The adult alligator grows up to prey upon these same animals.

Alligators reach breeding maturity at about 8 to 13 years of age, at which time they are about 6 to 7 feet (1.8–2.1 m) long. From then on, growth continues at a slower rate. The oldest males may grow to be 16 feet (4.85 m)[20] long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds (510 kg) during a lifespan of 30 or more years. A recent study by scientists from the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory in South Carolina reveals that up to 70 percent of A. mississippiensis females chose to remain with their partner, often for many years.[21]

Relationships with humansEdit

Human deaths and injuries Edit

Alligators are capable of killing humans, but are generally wary enough not to see them as a potential prey. Alligator bites are serious injuries due to the reptile's sheer bite force and risk of infection. Even with medical treatment, an alligator bite may still result in a fatal infection.[22] The alligator's tail is a formidable weapon that can easily knock a person down and break their bones. Alligators are protective parents who will protect their young by attacking anything that comes too close or poses threats to baby alligators.

Since 1948, there have been more than 275 unprovoked attacks on humans in Florida, of which at least 17 resulted in death.[23] There were only nine fatal attacks in the U.S. throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, but alligators killed 12 people from 2001 to 2007. In May 2006, alligators killed three Floridians in four days, two of them in the same day.[24]

Alligator Wrestling Edit

Several Florida tourist attractions have taken advantage of fears and myths about alligators—as well as the reality of their danger—through a practice known as alligator wrestling. Created in the early 20th century by some members of the Miccosukee and Seminole Tribe of Florida, this tourism tradition continues to the present day.

Endangered Species Recovery Edit

Historically, alligators were depleted from many parts of their range as a result of market hunting and loss of
250px-Albino Alligator 2008

An albino alligator could survive only in captivity.

habitat, and 30 years ago many people believed their population would never recover. In 1967, the alligator was listed as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it was considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

A combined effort by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms were instrumental in aiding the American alligator's recovery. The Endangered Species Act outlawed alligator hunting, allowing the species to rebound in numbers in many areas where it had been depleted. As the alligator began to make a comeback, states established alligator population monitoring programs and used this information to ensure alligator numbers continued to increase. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service still regulates the legal trade in alligator skins and products made from them.

Recently, a population of non-native Burmese Pythons has become established in Everglades National Park. While there have been observed events of predation by Burmese pythons on alligators and vice versa, there is currently no evidence of a net negative effect on alligator populations.[25][26][27]

Alligator Farming Edit

Alligator farming is a big and growing industry in Georgia, Florida, Texas and Louisiana. These states produce a combined annual total of some 45,000 alligator hides. Alligator hides bring good prices and hides in the 6 to 7 feet (1.8 to 2.1 m) range have sold for $300 each, though the price can fluctuate considerably from year to year. The market for alligator meat is growing and approximately 300,000 pounds (140,000 kg) of meat is produced annually. According to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, raw alligator meat contains roughly 200 calories (840 kJ) per 3 ounces (85 g) serving size, of which 27 calories (130 kJ) come from fat.[28]

Alligator meat is sometimes used in jambalayas, soups, and stew.

Symbol Edit

The American alligator is the official state reptile of three states: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi. In
170px-Albert and Alberta

Albert and Alberta Gator, the mascots of the University of Florida; the school chose the alligator as mascot 75 years before the state of Florida named it as official state reptile.

addition, the Gators have titled the University of Florida's teams since 1911. In that year, a printer made a spur-of-the-moment decision to print an alligator emblem on a shipment of the schools football pennants; the mascot stuck, perhaps because the team captain's nickname was Gator.[29]
American Alligator
American Alligator