Arkansas State Reptile
American Alligator (common name)
Alligator mississippiensis (scientific name)
The American alligator is native to the wetlands of the southern United States. Alligators depend on wetlands for survival, but they’re also important to the wetlands because as predators, they keep the population of animals that might otherwise overtax the local vegetation in check. The American alligator is the official state reptile of Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
ALSO KNOWN AS
This alligator has a wide head, a big body that is somewhat rounded, thick legs, and a long, pointed, powerful tail that makes up about half the animal's total length and more than a quarter of its body mass. The quality of the water an alligator lives in affects its coloring. Algae in the water makes its skin more green, while tannin makes it darker. As a result, an alligator’s rough, scaly skin may be deep olive, gray, brown, or almost black on its back, but its belly is much paler, usually off-white. American alligators have five-clawed front feet and four-clawed back feet.
Up to 30 years
Warm wetland habitats including swamps, lakes, and canals. Alligators prefer fresh water but will occasionally live in brackish water.
Range: Southeastern United States, from the Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina and Virginia south to the Florida Everglades National Park and west to the eastern edge of Texas. Florida and Louisiana presently have the most alligators, with 1 to 1.5 million in Florida and 1.5 to 2 million in Louisiana.
Conservation status: Least Concern (LC). Though alligators were hunted almost to extinction in the past, they have successfully repopulated and are no longer on the list of endangered species.
Alligators swim quickly and are usually much slower on land, though they can lunge with surprising speed and run short distances very quickly. They are carnivorous, and adults will eat almost any animal that comes into range. Alligators breed in springtime. Males attract mates and warn competitors away by breathing in large amounts of air and blowing it out to make a roaring or bellowing noise. They can also use infrasound for this purpose.
After mating, females build nests near or in water. The female lays 20 to 50 white eggs similar in size to goose eggs, then buries them under mulch that decays, keeping the eggs warm. Nest temperature determines hatchlings’ sex. Males develop at 90–93°F (32.2–33.8°C) and females at about 82–86°F (27.7–30°C). Temperatures between those ranges produce a mixed nest of males and females.
The mother stays close to the nest for 65 days while the eggs incubate and defends the nest as needed. Young stay with their mother for roughly five months. They are mature and ready to start breeding at between 8 and 13 years old. Females tend to keep the same breeding partner for years, though males may mate with more than one female.
Top land speed recorded: 30 mph (48 kph)
Fish, mollusks, frogs, and mammals such as mice and rats; sometimes snakes, turtles, birds, raccoons, and deer; more occasionally razorback pigs, cows, sheep, and smaller alligators. In rare cases they have been known to eat Florida panther or American black bear.
Breeding interval: Annual
Hatching period: May–June
Average nest size: 20–50 eggs
Size at birth: 8 in (20 cm) long
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Raw Data Source: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
Author: World Trade Press