Physical characteristics

In general appearance, alligators are similar to crocodiles, with stout bodies and powerful tails that are at least as long as their bodies. They have long snouts and noticeably toothed upper and lower jaws. Alligatorids are distinguished most notably from the crocodiles by their mandibular teeth, all of which slide inside the upper jaw and out of view when the mouth is closed. In contrast, the fourth mandibular teeth in crocodiles are visible outside the closed jaw.

Alligatorids are grayish, sometimes tending toward green, brown, yellow, or black, depending on the species. The young are often banded. Adult size ranges from about 4 ft (1.2 m) in Cuvier's dwarf caiman (P. palpebrosus) to 13 ft (4 m) in the American alligator (A. mississippiensis).

Like the crocodile's body, the alligatorid body is armored with tough osteoderms and, frequently, large scales that do not overlap. The osteoderms in some species do not extend onto the belly, making this smooth part of the skin highly

American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) in the Everglades in Florida. (Photo by Wendell Metzen/Photo Researchers, Inc. Reproduced by permission.)

desirable as leather for human uses. Alligatorids have short legs tipped with claws. The forelimbs are smaller than the hind limbs and have five, rather than four, partially webbed toes. Their body form allows them to glide in a sinuous pattern through the water, normally with just the side-to-side motion of the tail providing the locomotive force. On land the strength of their legs makes them quick and formidable predators.

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