By: Rachel Charles
There are two main species of alligators in the world- the American alligator
and the Chinese alligator. The American alligator lives in the waters and lowlands of
southeastern United States. The Chinese alligator is found near Shanghai, but the
numbers have declined so much that this is now an endangered animal and is
virtually extinct. The Chinese alligator is much like the American alligator in its
habits and appearance. Other closely related reptiles are the caymans of Central and
An alligator is characterized by its broad snout and the lower teeth fit into
pockets in the upper jaw. On land they are very clumsy and cumbersome. In water
they use their tail as a propeller. Their eyes seem to stick up above their skulls so
that alligators can see above water while their bodies are beneath it. The skin of
alligators is tough, which is why it is often used to make purses and shoes. When
grown, the American alligator is a dull gray and dark olive color. It also has yellow
marks across its body, but theses fade after time.
The ears of an alligator are located just behind the eyes and are hidden under
flaps. The animal has a very acute sense of hearing and is able to detect sounds from
a great distance away. They spend most of the day in the water in holes because
they are unable to withstand any lengths of time in the high temperatures of the
natural habitat. When the weather is cool, they often come on land to lie on the
damp ground where the doze in the sun.
While alligators are still growing and maturing, alligators grow at a rate of
one foot each year. Alligators in the past grew to be 18 feet long or even longer. The
average size of an alligator today is about 9 feet, although in the early 20th century, it
was not an uncommon sight to see one that measured almost 20 feet in length.
At present, few alligators can be found that have reached even a length of 12 feet.
Male alligators from 11 to 12 feet long weigh between 450 and 550 pounds. Female
alligators seldom measure more than 9 feet long, or weigh more than 160 pounds.
Night is prime hunting time for alligators. The diet of a young alligator
consists of crayfish, shrimp, insects and small creatures. As they mature, the diet
progresses to larger animals, such as birds and frogs. Large males sometimes
attack dogs, pigs, or even cattle. They drag these animals under water to drown
them and then tear them to pieces. Alligators do this by grabbing hold part of their
prey with their jaws and twisting until that part come off. Fortunately, even the
largest alligators seldom attack human beings. The muscles that close and the
alligator’s jaws are very strong, but once the jaws are shut, a man can easily hold
them closed with his bare hands. During the summer they consume large quantities
of food because they hibernate from October to May and during this time they eat
Male and female alligators reach sexual maturity when they are about six feet
long. Breeding takes place during the night, in shallow waters. Males roar to attract
females and to ward off other males. May and June are the nesting periods for the
female alligators. They build huge nests that are often over three feet in height and
as much as six feet in diameter. The alligator lays her eggs in the center of the pile
where the nest is wet. The eggs are white, hard-shelled, and slightly larger than hen
eggs. The female alligator usually lays between sixty to seventy eggs and covers
them with plants and mud. She guards the nest until the eggs hatch, which takes
about nine weeks. The sex of the juveniles is determined by the temperature of the
nest: above 93° F are males, below 86° F are all females, and temperatures in
between will produce both sexes....