Alligator

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American Alligator
American Alligator (with open jaws)
Alligator mother with young

One of the largest reptiles on planet Earth, the alligator is made up of two distinct species, the American and the Chinese alligator. Alligators date back nearly 36 million years, and their relatives first arose during the golden era of the dinosaurs!


Content List

1. Scientific & Common Names

2. Characteristics

a. Breeding

b. Behavior

3. History

4. Present Status


Scientific & Common Names

Kingdom - Animalia

Phylum - Chordata

Class - Reptilia

Order - Crocodilia

Family - Alligatoridae

Genus – Alligator

Species – A. mississippiensis

Common Names – American Alligator, Gator, Common Alligator


Characteristics

As interesting as alligators are, it’s best you keep your distance – alligators can bite with a force of over 2000 pounds per square inch! Virtually unchanged in the last 37 million years, alligators are perfectly suited to be the top predators in their environment. They have tough hides and "scutes" (large bony scales) on their backs that protect them from attack.


The two species of non-extinct alligators, the American alligator and the critically endangered Chinese alligator (A. sinensis) can be distinguished from their crocodile cousins by their flattened, U-shaped snouts, in which only the teeth in the upper jaw are visible when their mouth is closed.

Breeding

Female alligators make large nests of vegetation to keep their eggs warm. The temperature of the eggs during development will determine whether the babies hatch as male or female. Cooler temperatures yield females, while warmer temperatures will hatch males.


Behavior

Alligators are apex predators, and will eat whatever they can find if they're hungry. They are cold-blooded and will bask in the sun on hot days to absord the warmth which gives them energy.


History

Iconic to the culture of the southern United States, alligators have been hunted for years for their skin, which is used to make bags, shoes, and other pieces of apparel. More recently, alligators have become an important part of the ecotourism industry in which visitors can go on “swamp safaris” and observe alligators and their young in their natural habitat.


It is not known exactly how long an individual alligator's life span can be, but a captive Alligator in the Belgrade Zoo is known to be over 80 years old.


Present status

Due to habitat destruction and overhunting, alligators were pushed to the brink of extinction before being protected in 1967. Since then, they have made an amazing recovery and are thriving in their range in the southeastern United States.