Project Description

American Alligator

Alligator mississippiensis

 

Range/Geographical Distribution: The southeast United States from North Carolina to Texas.

Habitat: Marshes, swamps, rivers, ponds, and lakes; also sometimes found in ditches, neighborhoods, drainage canals, golf course ponds, and swimming pools. 

Description: A large aquatic reptile with short, thick legs, a powerful tail, and a rounded body.  Adults are dark gray and young have distinct yellow bands on the body and tail. 

Size: Adults can reach 19’ in length and can weigh over 800 lbs. Hatchlings are about nine inches long when they are born.

Food: Will eat anything they can catch including fish, turtles, insects, crustaceans, small mammals, and snails.

Breeding: Lay 35-45 eggs in a nest of mounded vegetation, which the female guards.

Predators: Adults have no natural predators but young are often eaten by raccoons, birds, snakes, otters and other alligators.

Conservation Status: Alligators were hunted almost to extinction in the 1950s and 1960s.  In 1967 the alligator was listed as endangered but by 1987 it was considered fully recovered and removed from the endangered species list.  The alligator is currently classified as least concern on the IUCN Red List but remains listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and as “Threatened due to similarity of appearance” under the Endangered Species Act.  These listings help ensure that related, “look-alike”, endangered species (i.e. crocodiles and caimans) products are not passed off as coming from American alligators.

Interesting Facts: The American alligator is considered a keystone species in its habitat.  During periods of drought these animals dig holes, called gator holes, that concentrate water and help other animals survive.  Alligators also dig dens beneath banks that are used for shelter during droughts and throughout the winter. 

On the Coast: There are currently about 200,000 alligators in Georgia.  Between 1980 and 2001 there were only eight reported alligator attacks on people in Georgia and none of them were fatal.  Alligators are often seen swimming in coastal Georgia waterways or pulled out “basking” on beaches and shores.