A powerful predator that can death roll their prey, the American alligator has many characteristics making them a force to reckon with. While you definitely don’t want to try and pet one in the wild, learning about their attributes can help you admire them from afar. Read on to find out 26 fun facts about American alligators.
26 facts about American alligators
1. American alligators live in southeastern U.S.
These reptiles live in coastal wetlands ranging from North Carolina to Florida and west to eastern Texas. You can find them in slow-moving waters, such as rivers, ponds, lakes, swamps, marshes, and bayous.
2. American alligators can weigh up to half a ton
Although average males weigh around 500 to 600 pounds, they are known to grow as much as 1,000 pounds (i.e. half a ton).
3. Male American alligators are larger than females
Average males grow around 10 to 15 feet long. In contrast, females are typically smaller, with an average length of 8.2 feet.
4. The tail makes up half an American alligator’s length
Their strong, massive tail averages around 5 to 8 feet long and is key for their survival in the wild. It helps them move and swim effectively and can be used as a defense weapon.
5. American alligators are carnivores
Adults will eat snakes, fish, turtles, birds, and mammals that come up to the water’s edge, such as deer or raccoons. They are known to swallow small prey whole and tear larger prey into smaller chunks. Juveniles mainly eat frogs, snails, insects, and other invertebrates.
6. American alligators are ambush predators
These reptiles are opportunistic feeders that sit quietly in the water, waiting for prey. They will remain still with just their eyes and nostrils above the surface. Once their chin detects vibrations in the water, they will lunge at their prey, often swallowing it whole.
7. American alligators use the death roll for large prey
The death roll is a spinning maneuver where the American alligator holds on to prey and rapidly rotates on the long axis of their bodies. This allows them to dismember prey and tear off pieces that are easier to swallow.
8. The American alligator’s bite force cracks turtle shells
While you could pry their jaws open, the muscles that shut their jaws are so strong they can crack a turtle shell open.
9. American alligators can replace their teeth
With their teeth used to seize, hold, and tear apart prey, it’s bound to wear down over time. Luckily they can be replaced. American alligators have between 74 to 80 teeth in their mouth at a time and will go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
10. American alligators are great swimmers
These reptiles are well adapted to being in the water, including having webbed feet and long tails. Their strong tails propel them through the water, help with steering, and allow them to hydroplane across the water’s surface.
11. American alligators have an unusual heart
Typically, reptiles have 3-chambered hearts but the American alligator’s heart has 4 chambers, similar to mammals and birds. Additionally, they have an extra valve that mammals don’t.
This valve allows them to send blood right back into their body instead of towards their lungs to be oxygenated. Scientists believe the extra valve helps them stay underwater longer.
12. Female American alligators are gentle mothers
Although ferocious animals, females are gentle when it comes to caring for their young. She will guard her eggs and, once they’ve hatched, gently carry the babies in her mouth to the nearby water.
13. Temperature determines the baby American alligator’s gender
These reptiles lack sex-determining chromosomes, so instead, the temperature of the nest determines the juvenile’s gender before they hatch. For example, temperatures of 87.8ºF or below produce females and 89.6ºF above produce mostly males.
14. Other alligators prey on young American alligators
Youngsters are more vulnerable than adults, having various predators, including larger alligators, bobcats, raccoons, birds, snakes, otters, and large bass. Around 80% of juveniles fall prey to predators as eggs or during their first few years.
15. Juvenile American alligators can regrow their tail
Since young American alligators are more vulnerable to predators, scientists found they have the ability to grow back their tails. Juveniles can regenerate up to 9 inches of lost tails and are the largest animals with this ability.
16. Humans are the biggest threat to American alligators
As a ferocious predator, the main threat to American alligators is human activity, especially hunting and the draining and development of wetlands that destroy their habitats.
17. American alligators and crocodiles are commonly mistaken
These two large, fierce predators may look similar but there is one way to distinguish them – their teeth. The large 4th tooth in the lower jaw of a crocodile is visible when their mouth is closed. In contrast, the American alligator’s tooth fits into an upper jaw socket and is not visible.
18. American alligator’s eyes glow in the dark
Catching their eyes at night with a flashlight shows a red glow. They have a structure in their retina that reflects light back to improve their vision in low-light conditions.
19. American alligator blood is antiviral and antibiotic
A study found that their blood has these active properties against West Nile Virus, HIV-1, and Herpes simplex virus.
20. American alligators are the loudest reptiles worldwide
During mating, both males and females will make loud roars. Males also roar to scare away predators and attract mates.
21. American alligators are most active in warm weather
These reptiles thrive in warmer weather, especially during the summer months. While they can be active during the day, they prefer hunting in the darker hours, from dusk to dawn.
22. American alligators enjoy basking in the sun
You can frequently see American alligators basking in the sun on water banks to warm up their cold-blooded bodies.
23. American alligators brumate during the winter
As reptiles, they brumate (not hibernate) when the weather gets colder. It’s a similar process where they slow down their metabolic activity and go through a period of dormancy. Some stronger individuals can live, semi-actively in water as cold as 40ºF.
24. American alligators dig 65 feet tunnels
They create what is called a “gator hole” along the waterway to prepare for their brumation. The tunnels can reach as long as 65 feet. Once the weather cools, they will dig themselves into mud hollows that fill with water.
25. American alligators can only handle saltwater briefly
You’ll mostly find these reptiles in slow-moving freshwater habitats because they can only tolerate salt water for brief periods. They don’t have salt glands – an organ that helps remove excess salts or help certain species drink salt water.
26. Alligators can run fast!
Alligators may look like they’d be slow, but they’re actually quite fast when they need to be. They don’t have long endurance, but can reach speeds of up to 35 mph in short sprints making them very fast runners.
American alligators have plenty of unique characteristics. Their unusual hearts, antiviral blood, regenerating teeth, incredible bite force, and ferocious hunting tactics are just examples of what makes these reptiles so fascinating.