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Sunday Crocodilian - Alligator mississippiensis Edition

There could be other, more appropriate animals to write about for Father's Day. Alligators aren't the best parents by mammalian standards. Oh, well - on to Sunday Crocodilian!

The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is one of two species of the genus Alligator, and can be found in the southeastern United States along the Gulf and eastern coastlines, from the tip of Texas to North Carolina. They have one of the strongest bites ever measured in a laboratory environment, thought to be the strongest until the experiment was replicated and exceeded with saltwater crocodiles. Fossil records of the modern American Alligator extend well into the Pleistocene.


Male American Alligators can reach sizes of 15 feet (4.6 meters) in total body length, weighing just under 1,000 pounds (453 kg). Females are slightly smaller, maxing out at almost 10 feet in body length. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, larger males were measured and reported. The largest specimen was unverified, but it was reported to be 19 feet (5.8 meters) long, which if accurate would have meant that he weighed over a ton (tonne). Weight and size are dependent on environmental conditions, age, health, and whether or not they have a steady food supply. The smaller American Alligators are found in the northern parts of their range, while the larger gators are found in the southern parts of their range.

American Alligators are opportunistic hunters and are considered to be the apex predators throughout their range. Their diet varies hugely and depends on what's available. They will eat mammals, birds, fish, other reptiles like turtles and snakes, and amphibians. When they are small hatchlings, they will feed on small prey like insects, spiders, worms and snails. Once an American Alligator reaches adult size, however, any animal that lives in the same waters or comes to those waters to drink is a potential prey item. Incredibly, American Alligators have been observed to use lures to catch prey, balancing sticks and branches on their heads. These lure in birds looking for nesting materials, and the gators will snatch the birds when they come to retrieve them. They are among the first reptilians to be observed using tools.


American Alligators breed during the spring, gathering together at night in large groups for what are called "alligator dances." Females build their nests along the banks of the rivers or swamps where they live, laying 20 to 50 eggs and covering them with rotting vegetation. The decaying plant material keeps the eggs warm, and the sex of the resulting hatchlings is determined by how warm they are when they develop. Eggs incubated at a temperature of 93 degrees Fahrenheit (34 degrees Celsius) will be males. Eggs incubated at lower temperatures, like 86 degrees Fahrenheit (30 degrees Celsius) or below, will be females. For 65 days, the nesting female will stay near her nest and protect it from other predators. After the eggs hatch, she will quickly gather them into her mouth and take them into the water to keep them safe. The bright coloring of the hatchlings actually aid them in camouflage, helping to hide them during the most vulnerable time in their lives. After they reach a certain size, their mother will encourage them to disperse by acting aggressively towards them.


American Alligators are among the most vocal of reptiles, having specific vocalizations to communicate different meanings, like calls to locate mates, declare territory, signal distress, or aggressive calls to keep intruders at bay. Hatchlings have their own calls, a high-pitched cry that alerts their mothers when they are ready to leave the nest, or to locate them in the water. Adult American Alligators will also bellow by sucking air into their lungs and blowing it out, causing deep-toned roars. This bellowing is distinct among crocodilians. The infrasonic waves from the bellows of male American Alligators during the mating season can cause the water to ripple and sprinkle, which is called a "water dance." Hunting and habitat loss has come close to spelling doom for the American Alligator, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in conjunction with state agencies and laws of protection in the South, ensured that populations were able to recuperate. They are now monitored and the species is considered to be fully restored.

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