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Fish & Wildlife Service

American Alligator
Alligator mississippiensis

A member of the crocodile family, the
American alligator is a living fossil
from the Age of Reptiles, having
survived on earth for 200 million

American alligator populations
reached all-time lows in the 1950s,
primarily due to market- hunting
and habitat loss. However, in 1987,
the alligator was pronounced fully
recovered, making it one of the first
endangered species success stories.

John Hammond, USFWS
Today, alligators are found
throughout the Southeast, from
the Carolinas to Texas and north to

Description and Diet
The alligator can be distinguished American Alligator
from the crocodile by its head
shape and color. The crocodile has
a narrower snout, and unlike the survival. Alligators depend on an overhanging bank to create a
alligator, has lower jaw teeth that are wetlands—and in some ways hidden den. After tunneling as
visible even when its mouth is shut. wetlands depend on them. As far as 20 feet, it enlarges the end,
In addition, adult alligators are black, predators at the top of the food chain, making a chamber with a ceiling high
while crocodiles are brownish in color. they help control numbers of rodents enough above water level to permit
and other animals that might overtax breathing. This is not the alligator’s
The alligator has a large, slightly the marshland vegetation. nest but merely a place for the reptile
rounded body, with thick limbs, a to survive the dry season and winter.
broad head, and a very powerful tail The alligator’s greatest value to
that it uses to propel itself through the marsh and other animals within Breeding and Life History
water. The tail accounts for half the it are the “gator holes” that many The breeding season begins in the
alligator’s length. While alligators adults create and expand through the spring. Although alligators have no
move very quickly in water, they years. An alligator uses its mouth and vocal cords, males bellow loudly to
are generally slow-moving on land, claws to uproot vegetation to clear attract mates and warn off other
although they can be quick for short out a space; then, shoving with its males during this time by sucking air
distances. body and slashing with its powerful into their lungs and blowing it out in
tail, it wallows out a depression intermittent, deep-toned roars.
Alligators will eat just about that stays full of water in the wet
anything, but primarily consume fish, season and holds water after the The female builds a nest of
turtles, and snails. Small animals that rains stop. During the dry season, vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud
come to the water’s edge to drink and particularly during extended in a sheltered spot in or near the
make easy prey. Young alligators droughts, gator holes provide vital water. After she lays 20 to 50 white,
mostly feed on insects, crustaceans, water for fish, insects, crustaceans, goose-egg sized eggs, she covers
snails, and fish. snakes, turtles, birds, and other them under more vegetation, which,
animals in addition to the alligator like mulch, heats as it decays, helping
Biological Role itself. to keep the eggs warm. She remains
As during the Reptile Age, alligators near the nest throughout the 65-
live in wetlands, vital habitat that Sometimes, the alligator may expand day incubation period, protecting
holds the key to their continued its gator hole by digging beneath the nestJanuary
from intruders.
1998 When the

gov/endangered/ throughout all or a significant portion NPS of its range.fws. As it as “threatened due to similarity bellies. some related animals—such female quickly digs them out. the alligator was Arlington. habitat loss. N. Atlanta. at to ensure that numbers continued skins. the Fish and as part of efforts to prevent the illegal long. meaning it was 703-358-2390 considered in danger of extinction http://www. In 1967. The story of the American alligator years or more. For several days they continue to rebound in numbers in many areas alligator under the ESA classification to live on yolk masses within their where it had been depleted. their between the ages of 8 and 13 years. USFWS young begin to hatch. the Fish and Wildlife their bodies.” The Service thus established alligator monitoring regulates the harvest of alligators Alligators reach breeding maturity programs and used the information and legal trade in the animals. John Hammond.S. tiny replicas of adult alligators saved these unique animals. growth continues Wildlife Service pronounced the take and trafficking of endangered at a slower rate. The wildlife agencies in the South as several species of crocodiles and young.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Southeast Region 1875 Century Boulevard. VA 22203 listed as endangered. and the and Wildlife Service and State secure. For with a series of yellow bands around Endangered Species Act prohibited this February 2008 (top): American alligator (middle): Alligator hatching from the egg USFWS (bottom): American alligator den . alligators were depleted one of the prominent successes of from many parts of their range the Nation’s endangered species as a result of market-hunting and program. Fish and Wildlife Service would never recover. and products made from them. E. States of appearance. Old males may grow American alligator fully recovered “look-alike” reptiles. The caimans —are still in trouble.S. under Endangered Species Program a law that preceded the Endangered 4401 N. Fish Although the American alligator is high-pitched croaking noise. they emit a A combined effort by the U. to be 14 feet long and weigh up to and consequently removed the animal 1. began to make a comeback. Room 420 Species Act of 1973. Forty years ago many people believed this unique reptile U. which time they are about 6 to 7 feet to increase. U. Georgia 30345 404-679-7100 http://www.fws. then find their way to alligator hunting.000 pounds during a lifespan of 30 from the list of endangered species. In 1987. it is truly Historically. is one of both drastic decline and complete recovery. Fairfax Drive. allowing the species Service continues to protect the water. From then on. A story of State Decline and Recovery and Federal cooperation.