Alligator — An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. The name alligator is an anglicized form of the Spanish el lagarto (“the lizard”), the name by which early Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida called the alligator. There are two living alligator species: the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis).
Alligators are characterized by a wider snout than crocodiles. Both living species also tend to be darker in color, often nearly black but color is very dependent on the water. Algae-laden waters produce greener alligators; alligators from waters with a lot of tannic acid from overhanging trees are often darker (although the Chinese alligator has some light patterning.) Also, in alligators only the upper teeth can be seen with the jaws closed, in contrast to true crocodiles, in which upper and lower teeth can be seen. However, many individuals bear jaw deformities which complicate this means of identification.
The eyes of a large alligator will glow red and those of a smaller one will glow green when a light is shined on them. This fact can be used to find alligators in the dark.
An average American alligator’s weight and length is 800 lbs (360 kg) and 13 feet (4 m) long. According to the Everglades National Park website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long (5.3 m). The largest alligator ever recorded in Alabama measured 12 feet 10 inches (3.7 m). The largest alligator ever recorded measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 m) and was found on Marsh Island, Louisiana. Few of the giant specimens were weighed, but the larger ones could have exceeded a ton in weight. The Chinese Alligator is smaller, rarely exceeding 7 feet (2 m) in length.
An alligator’s lifespan is usually estimated in the range of 50 years or more. A specimen named Muja has resided in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia since 1937, making it at least 70 years old. Another specimen, Cabulītis, in Riga Zoo, Latvia died in 2007 being more than 72 years old.
Alligators are native to only two countries: the United States and China.
American Alligators are found in the subtropical southeast US: all of Florida and Louisiana; the southern parts of Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi; coastal South and North Carolina; Southeastern Texas and in extreme southwest Oklahoma and Arkansas. The majority of American Alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana, with over a million alligators in each state.
American Alligators live in freshwater environments, such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps, as well as brackish environments. Southern Florida is the only place where both alligators and crocodiles live side by side.
The Chinese alligator currently is found only in the Yangtze River valley and is extremely endangered, with only a couple dozen believed to be left in the wild. Indeed, far more Chinese alligators live in zoos around the world than can be found in the wild.