The large American alligator, with its menacing looking grin and huge teeth, is as feared as any animal in the wild. It can move swiftly both on land and in the water. The American alligator is the largest of all members of the crocodile family in North America. It has a large, somewhat rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and an extremely muscular tail with which it propels itself powerfully through the water.

Habitat: The American alligator spends all of its time in and around the swamps and rivers of its watery home. In some are, where the water level fluctuates, the alligator will dig itself a hollow in the mud which becomes filled with water. Sometimes these underground hollows are as long as 65 feet. the temperature there remains fairly stable, so the alligator can retreat there to avoid extremes of winter cold and summer heat.

Breeding: The American alligator's courtship and mating take place at night in shallow water during April or May. Bulls roar loudly to attract females and to warn off other males. The bull is generally much larger than the female. He will seem in circles around her, finally coming alongside to grip her in his jaws and place his limbs over her body.

The female lays her eggs in a nest made of damp, rotting vegetation and mud. After she deposits the eggs, she covers the nest with more vegetation. A the vegetation matter in the nest rots, it gives off heat, which helps to incubate the eggs. They are very vulnerable at this stage; a rise in the water level could flood the nest, drowning the young reptiles while they are still inside their shells.

The young alligators hatch two to three months later. During this time, the female remains close to the nest, driving off any intruders. As they hatch, the baby alligators emit a high pitched croak, which serves as a signal to the female to open the nest. Only eight inches long, the hatchlings are completely independent at birth and quickly take to the water. The youngsters grow at a rate of about 12 inches a year. They do not read maturity until they are over six years old.

Food & Hunting:  Alligators eat a wide variety of food. Youngsters feed on insects, shrimp, tadpoles, and frogs. As they mature, they eat small fish and snakes; when they are almost fully grown, their diet is made up almost entirely of fish.  Adult alligators, however, will eat almost anything . Raccoons and muskrats are quickly snapped up, along with birds, freshwater turtles and snake. Alligators hunt most of their prey in water. They snap up small prey and swallow it whole. Larger mammals are generally seized and then dragged underwater and drowned before the alligator tears them into large pieces and swallows them.

Man and Alligator: Once widely hunted for its skin, the American alligator came close to extinction earlier this last century. A conservation program set up in the 1950s banned hunting and saved the alligator from extinction. Its numbers have since recovered so well that it is now controlled by organized hunting. Alligator "farms" are popular tourist attractions in the southeastern United States.

Related Species: The only other species of alligator is the much smaller Chinese alligator, Alligator sinensis.

Key Facts: Sizes, Weight, breeding, lifestyle, related Species
Length:  About 13 ft.; up to 18 ft. Tail accounts for half of it length.
Weight: 450 - 500 lb

Mating Season: April to May
No of eggs: 25 - 60
Hatching Time: 2 - 3 months

Habit: Usually Solitary
Diet: Insects, shrimp, tadpoles, and frogs when young, fish and small mammals when adult..
Life span: Up to 50 years.

Distribution:  Warm wetlands and swamps of the southeastern United States: Florida, Georgia, Texas, Louisiana, and Alabama.
Conservation: Concerted conservation efforts have saved the American alligator from the brink of extinction, and is no longer an endangered species.

Did you know:
Together with crocodiles, alligators are descended from reptiles that lived between 225 and 65 million years ago.
The name alligator comes from the Spanish el lagarto which means "the lizard."
There are over 20 species of crocodile worldwide.

Alligators and Crocodiles: Over some of its territory, the American alligator shares its habitat with the American crocodile. Crocodylus acutus, which is far more rare. The two are very similar in appearance, although the crocodile is slightly smaller and less bulky and has a larger, narrower snout.  The best way to tell the two apart , however , is by comparing the heads.
The alligator has a broad snout and all the teeth in its upper jaw overlap with those in the lower.
The crocodile has a pair of enlarged teeth in the lower haw which fit into a "notch" on each side of its snout. They can be seen even when the crocodile's mouth is shut.

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