THE AMERICAN ALLIGATOR (Alligator mississippiensis) is the largest reptile in North America. They live in freshwater wetlands in the southeastern United States.
The American alligator is a conservation success story. Once endangered, they have now made a remarkable recovery. State and federal conservation measures, habitat preservation, and reduced demand for alligator products have resulted in a wild population of more than one million alligators.
These giant reptiles might be common, but they're also full of surprises. Read on to get to know the American alligator's quirks.
1. Alligators are toothy. They have between 74 and 80 teeth in their jaws at any given time, and as teeth wear down or fall out they are replaced. An alligator can go through over 2,000 teeth in its lifetime.
2. Alligators continue to grow throughout their lifetimes. Male American alligators average 8 to 10 feet long, while females tend to be slightly smaller. Very old males can get quite large, up to 15 feet long and weighing over 1,000 pounds.
3. They can use tools. American alligators have been observed using lures to hunt birds. They balance sticks and branches on their heads, attracting birds looking for nesting material.
4. Alligators have two kinds of walks. Besides swimming, alligators walk, run, and crawl on land. They have a "high walk" and a "low walk." The low walk is sprawling, while in the high walk the alligator lifts its belly off the ground.
5. Alligators are ecosystem engineers. Alligators play an important role in their wetland ecosystems by creating small ponds known as alligator holes. Alligator holes retain water during the dry season and provide habitats for other animals.
6.Alligators are apex predators that also eat fruit. Alligators are carnivorous opportunists, eating fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. What they eat is largely determined by their size. However, they were recently reported to also eat fruit such as wild grapes, elderberries, and citrus fruits directly from trees. Alligators may help spread the seeds of these fruits throughout their habitats.