This article will discuss the alligators in Florida and cover 6 need-to-know facts about the American alligator before your next venture into potential alligator habitat in Florida. Florida is actually home to 2 species of crocodilian if you want to learn about the crocodiles of Florida.
Alligators in Florida
The American Alligator
Common name: American alligator
Scientific name: Alligator mississippiensis
Length: 8.5-15 ft
Weight: up to 1,000 lbs
Average lifespan: 30-50 years (in the wild)
Conservation status: least concern
Though the American crocodile is related, the American alligator is the only alligator species found in Florida. The species ranges widely across the southern part of the United States, spanning from east Texas all the way up the coast to North Carolina. Although the species can be found in several states, they are by far the most abundant in Florida and Louisiana
Both states have over one million wild American alligators. This is partly because, unlike many other range states, the entirety of Louisiana and Florida are populated by the crocodilians; therefore, they are widespread and have more opportunities to mate.
6 Facts about Florida’s alligators
1. The American Alligator is the Largest Alligator Species
The American alligator is a large crocodilian and ranks as the largest member of the Alligatoridae family. The species can weigh up to 1,000 lbs. and measure a length up to 15 feet. Females are smaller than males of the species; however, even with the sexual dimorphism, female alligators are enormous.
Adult female alligators usually will not exceed 10 feet in length, and therefore, you’ll distinctly be able to see a size difference compared to an adult male. However, if you’re entering their habitat, don’t be fooled by their size; both sexes are incredibly hazardous animals!
2. The American Alligator has a Distinct Snout and Jaw
You can identify the alligator by looking at their head shape and jaw. Unlike crocodiles, alligators have rounded snouts that appear broader. When looking at an alligator head-on, their snout has almost a u-shape since it is much wider than that of a crocodile. This is one of the best ways to tell species apart since body shape and color can differ slightly between individuals.
The American alligator also has no visible lower teeth when they close their jaw, unlike many other crocodilians, including the American crocodile. So while alligators sometimes will rest with their mouths slightly propped open, their jaw should close perfectly as not to expose the inside of the mouth at all.
Looking for these indicators will help you tell the difference between them and other crocodilian living in Florida, the American crocodile.
3. Alligators have Deceiving Coloration
In addition, American alligators are dark gray for the most part and have a lighter underbelly. If you spot a species that looks like an alligator but does not match the color, remember that the species can often take on the color of their environment. Because of this, they may look green due to the algae and vegetation in their environment.
This is important to remember when looking for alligators in Florida since there is a lot of algal growth in the state waterways which will cause changes to the skin color of the gator.
Since alligators spend much of their time in the water, note what color the water source is to identify better what color the alligator may be. Alligators have many divots and protrusions in their skin, which can easily grab onto plant matter. This is one of the ways alligators hide from prey.
Because they’re easily disguised in their freshwater home, avoid swimming or going near any freshwater source in Florida. Alligators are likely out of sight in the water due to their ability to camouflage with the colors of the water source.
4. Alligators are Opportunistic Hunters
American alligators in Florida are unlikely to stalk or chase prey down. They’re opportunistic, meaning that they’ll eat any wildlife that’s easy to catch. Some common alligator prey in Florida includes:
- Small mammals or birds
- Larger gators can consume larger mammals like deer or razorbacks
Florida is rich in wildlife due to its warm climate, giving alligators several prey options to choose from. This also means that most animals that cross their path are in danger as long as they’re not too large for the alligator to drown.
5. Alligators Have Strong Senses
Unlike many reptiles, crocodilians have relatively strong senses. American alligators have exceptional hearing, which aids them in hunting. They can hear their hatchlings before they even hatch from the egg. However, hearing isn’t their only strength. American alligators also have excellent night vision.
Since Florida has an abundance of swampland where alligators can thrive, their night vision and hearing help them avoid other large predators that live in swampy land and immediately alert them of any prey entering the area.
Their strong senses combined with their ability to stay very quiet and stealthy in their environment give them a high success rate for hunting.
6. Alligators Do Not Hunt Humans, but…
If you come across an alligator in Florida, make sure to stay at least 50 feet away if possible. Although alligators don’t hunt humans, they will attack humans that come close. With a large human population of around 20 million people in Florida, along with over one million alligators, it’s vital to give the reptiles some space.
Alligators are extremely fast and will bite if they feel threatened in close proximity to a human. If an alligator comes close to your Florida home, pool, golf course, or local park, be sure to call a professional to relocate the gator rather than trying to drive it off yourself. And if you find yourself in any freshwater swamplands, lakes, or streams in Florida, exercise extreme caution as alligators are very likely to be around even if you can’t see them.