The American alligator is a large reptile that is indigenous to the southeastern United States. It is also one of only two living animal species in the alligator group, with the other being the Chinese alligator. Alligators should not be confused with crocodiles (though they are crocodilian reptiles). Actual crocodiles have much longer snouts than alligators, which are somewhat snub-nosed in comparison. Also, crocodiles sometimes live in salt water, but alligators never do; they require fresh water to use as their habitat.
Young American Alligators
Young alligators are born via eggs that the mother builds in sheltered locations in or near the water where she lives. The nests are made of mud, twigs, leaves, and other types of vegetation the mother can find. When the babies hatch, they have yellow bands around their bodies, which they keep until they reach maturity. Their mother protects them for about a year after birth, when they go off on their own.
The American alligator was on the Engangered Species list from 1973 to 1987. It made a comeback after that, and is now listed as an animal of least concern by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. American alligators are hunted and harvested pretty regularly these days, with their skins and meat being prized.
When grown, American alligators have one of the strongest bites of any living animal ever measured in a laboratory. Only saltwater crocodiles have a stronger one. However, despite the strength of their bite, the muscles they use to open their jaws are pretty weak, and their mouths can easily be kept shut with tape, or even a firm hand. If you can keep them from opening their mouths, which is pretty easy, they cannot harm you with their powerful bite when their jaws come down. Both male and female allligators have the same bite strength, which is another interesting feature about them.
Where do American Alligators Live
You will find American alligators in the wild pretty much anywhere there is water in the southeastern United States. They range from southern Virginia to southern Florida, and as far west as Texas’s souther tip. Some are also found in Mexico, in the state of Tamaulipas. They were recently spotted in west Tennessee, in 2018, which is the farthest north they have ever been discovered. Alligators can live in fresh water rivers, streams, ponds, and lakes. They may occassionally dip into a brackish mix of saltwater and fresh water near the openings of rivers to the ocean, but do not stay there long, as the salt glands on thir tongues do not work (as they do on crocodiles). Males tend to prefer to live in open lakes in the springa, while females like swampy areas during that time of year. It is the same in summer. In winter, both males and females den up under river banks or in groups of trees.
American Alligator Habitat
Even though they like to get out of the water in winter and go to places where they can keep warm, they are more tolerant to the cold than American crocodiles. Crocodiles become dormant and drown if the water temperature goes to or below 45 degrees F. Alligators, on the other hand, can live in the water in these temperatures for quite some time without being bothered by it. This is why the alligator can live at higher latitudes than the crocodile. The American alligator is found farther north of the equator than any other crocodilian reptile. They can even live in freezing water, unlike crocodiles. When the water begins to freeze, the American alligator simply go into a semi-dormant state and push their snouts above the surface. This means that even if the surface of the water freezes, they will still be able to breathe above the ice.
You can see American alligators in virtually any body of fresh water in Florida. They are unmistakable as you see them gliding across the surface of the water. You only want to look at them from afar, as they can move quite fast on their feet on land. The best way to view them up close is at a zoo. The good news is that Florida has plenty of opportunities to see captive American alligators in zoos and other tourist attractions. In fact, the American alligator is the official reptile of the state of Florida.