Alligator, American

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Physical Characteristics

The average size for an adult female is 8.2 feet; the average size for a male is 11.2 feet. Exceptionally large males can reach a weight of nearly half a ton or 1000 pounds.

Both males and females have an “armored” body with a muscular, flat tail; the skin on the back is armored with embedded bony plates called osteoderms. They have four short legs; the front legs have 5 toes while the back legs have four toes. Alligators have a long snout with upward facing nostrils that lets them breathe while the rest of the body is underwater. Young gators can be distinguished from adults by bright yellow stripes on the tail, adults have dark stripes.


The American alligator is found in the South/Southeastern U.S., from North Carolina to the Rio Grande in Texas. They are usually found in freshwater, slow-moving rivers, swamps, marshes and lakes. They can tolerate salt water for only brief periods because they do not have salt glands.

They are carnivorous, having very strong jaws that can crack a turtle shell. They eat fish, snails and other invertebrates, birds, frogs and mammals that come to the water’s edge. They use their sharp teeth to seize and hold prey. Small prey is swallowed whole, while they shake apart large prey into smaller, manageable pieces. If it is very large, they bite it, and then spin on the long axis of their bodies to tear off easily swallowed pieces.

Social Behavior

Alligators are social creatures and often stay in groups called congregations. These groups are typically seen basking in the sun or taking a swim.


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Fascinating Facts

    • The alligator became the official state reptile of Florida in 1987.
    • In Spanish, el lagarto means “the lizard”. English sailors took the name as “allagarter” and in time it has become “alligator”.
    • The average number of eggs in a Florida alligator nest is 35-50, but only about 15 of these will hatch...and only about 6 of those will live to be 1-year old.
    • Although alligators are classified as reptiles, their closest relatives are actually BIRDS, which are direct descendants of dinosaurs.
    • Alligators have a U-shaped snout while crocodiles have a V-shaped snout


Status In The Wild

Once on the verge of extinction, the American alligator has made a remarkable recovery. Due to strict conservation measures and extensive research, it is no longer endangered except in scattered areas of its range. However, it is listed as threatened on the U.S. Endangered Species List because it is very similar in appearance to the American crocodile, which is endangered, and hunters are likely to confuse the two species.

Hunting is allowed in some states, but it is heavily controlled. The greatest threat currently is destruction of habitat; this includes water management systems and increased levels of mercury and dioxins in the water.


Waystation Residents

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