Alligators are sometimes called gators.
They form the Alligator genus in the Crocodilia order of semi-aquatic reptiles known for having powerful jaws, a robust appearance, and an armored body.
It is believed that what we now call alligators appeared around 37 million years ago, although members of their superfamily have been roaming Earth for about 100-65 million years!
Alligators split from caimans around 53-65 million years ago, eventually becoming a separate genus that once consisted of seven species.
Unfortunately, only two alligator species survived till the present times, and one is currently listed as Critically Endangered by the IUCN Red List.
As such, let’s discover more about the two extant alligator species, as learning about their lifestyle and behavior is essential in contributing to conservation efforts!
2. American Alligator
The American alligator is known as Alligator mississippiensis among specialists and reptile enthusiasts.
These crocodilian reptiles are native to the United States, more precisely, its southeastern region.
These animals are apex predators and play an essential ecological role thanks to their specific holes that serve as habitats for other creatures.
This behavior caused the species to become a keystone species.
American alligators live in freshwater wetland areas in tropical and subtropical regions.
They are most often found in cypress swamps or marshes.
While they’re often mistaken for American crocodiles, American alligators have a slightly different distribution.
They are much more resistant to cold; American alligators can thrive at temperatures of around 45 degrees Fahrenheit for some time before showing signs of distress.
However, when the water becomes too cold, they enter brumation – a state of dormancy.
As apex predators, American alligators hunt fish, reptiles, birds, amphibians, and even mammals.
Did you know that they once held the record for having the strongest bite among other extant animals?
Male alligators are larger than females, reaching lengths of up to 15.1 feet and weighing up to 1,000 pounds. Females can be much smaller, measuring 8.5-9.8 feet long.
They typically have brown, black, gray, or olive bodies and feature distinctive blackish dorsal scales and creamy undersides.
Besides the above, an American alligator’s body is armored with coarse scales, the eyes are prominent, and the upper teeth are visible.
Although portrayed as dangerous creatures, fatal American alligator attacks are rare.
In fact, it’s believed they’re less aggressive than other crocodilians.
On the other hand, since humans often encroach on their territory, some may bite and cause serious injuries that require immediate medical care.
1. Chinese Alligator
Also known as Alligator sinensis, the Yangtze alligator, or the muddy dragon, the Chinese alligator is the closest relative of the American alligator.
Although the species was once found in Japan and China, it is now endemic to the latter, primarily living in Anhui’s freshwater habitats.
Additionally, some populations are believed to live in Zhejiang and Jiangsu, but specifics are unknown.
Their population is currently critically endangered.
Although the population trend is stable, only around 68-86 mature individuals are left in the wild.
The IUCN Red List mentions that their numbers are thought to have declined by 99% in 75 years.
This significant decline is caused by habitat loss and degradation, pollution, natural disasters, and human killing.
Chinese alligators are a small species (compared to other crocodilians) and reach lengths of around 5-7 feet. In terms of weight, they rarely grow heavier than 100 pounds.
Chinese alligator bodies are fully armored and have dark black or gray shades.
Their heads are robust and equipped with short yet broad snouts.
Chinese alligators are nocturnal during summer, which earned them a reputation as being a docile species.
Since they rarely cross paths with humans, attacks are rare.
Like American alligators, these reptiles are generally considered apex predators and opportunistic feeders, eating anything they can catch – fish, invertebrates, mammals, and birds.