American alligator

Alligator mississippiensis

SUBFAMILY

Alligatorinae

TAXONOMY

Alligator mississippiensis Daudin, 1801, "les bords du Mississipi," United States. No subspecies are recognized.

OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Gator, pike-headed alligator, Florida alligator, Mississippi alligator, Louisiana alligator; French: Alligator de Amerika; German: Hechtalligator, Mississippi-Alligator; Spanish: Aligator de Mississippi.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

With a broad snout and heavy, armorlike, dorsal scales, American alligators are dark grayish green to black, with pale whitish bellies. The young commonly have conspicuous yellow markings on the back and tail. In their geographic range, the only other crocodilian is the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), which has a noticeably narrower and tapering snout. Adults generally reach lengths of about 8-13 ft (2.4-4 m), though some individuals may top 19 ft (5.8 m).

DISTRIBUTION

The American alligator is found throughout the coastal plains of the southeastern United States from the Carolinas south to Florida and west to Texas.

HABITAT

This species inhabits freshwater, especially marshes, swamps, lakes, and slow-moving rivers.

BEHAVIOR

Alligators often form extended families of sorts, with several generations living in the same vicinity for many years. When the breeding season arrives, the courtship ritual includes a se

H Paleosuchus trigonatus H Alligator mississippiensis ries of tactile behaviors, including gentle bumping and rubbing between the male and female. Both males and females bellow, with the male's roars a bit louder than the female's and more plentiful during mating season. Females often utter low grunts when calling the young. Males and females of all ages hiss when threatened. This species may become dormant during the winter, but it does not hibernate.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

The largest reptiles in North America, adult American alligators are at the top of the food chain in their habitat. They are carnivorous and eat almost anything that is in or near the water, including turtles; fish; small mammals, such as otters; and even young alligators. If possible, the alligator swallows its prey whole. If the prey item is large, however, it first drowns the victim, then tears off bite-sized chunks. Younger alligators eat primarily fish and small invertebrates.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Males and females mature at 10 years or older. Mating occurs each spring. Each nest contains about three dozen to four dozen eggs, of which two-thirds or more typically survive to hatching. Egg gestation is about two months. Females provide parental care by guarding the nest and young, by opening the buried nest to assist in hatching, and by transporting hatchlings to water. Young remain near their mother in a "pod" for at least two to three months and often as long as two to three years. Their life span can run 50 or more years.

CONSERVATION STATUS

Not listed by the IUCN.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

The species is a source of meat and hides for such uses as shoes, belts, and purses. In some places, they also have become a boon to the tourist industry. ♦

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