American Alligator

Mark Lagrange

Genus: Alligator
Species: mississippiensis

Description: American alligators are the largest reptiles in the United States. They can grow to be over 12 feet long and they have strong jaws and a long, powerful tail.

Alligators have dark colored skin with small bony scales, called scutes.

Alligators are cold-blooded and depend on the natural world around them to provide warmth. They will lie in the sun (called basking) or dig holes in mud to trap heat.

The American alligator is an important "keystone" species of the Southeast. Alligators use their tails to dig burrows in mud for nesting and to keep warm. When an alligator abandons a burrow, the hole left behind fills with freshwater and is utilized by other species for breeding and drinking. If alligators are removed from their native ecosystem, it would affect countless other species.

A cousin of the alligator, the American crocodile, is very rare in the U.S. and only a few thousand individuals live on the southern tip of Florida. To tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile, look at the mouth. Alligators have a wide, round snout, compared to the long, thin mouth of the crocodile. Crocodiles also have two large teeth that stick out when their mouth is closed.

American Alligator

Remember not to get too close to an alligator or a crocodile. They can be very dangerous when provoked!

Habitat and Range: Look for American alligators in the coastal swamps and marshes of the Southeast as far north as southern North Carolina and as far west as the eastern Texas coast.

Fun Fact: Although American alligators are hard to miss while basking on the shore, they can look eerily like logs when floating in a marsh.   

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