More than 30 million years ago, alligators primarily emerged during the Oligocene epoch. To this day, they perform an important role in sustaining ecosystem balance. This creature is on the top of the food chain and as an apex or alpha predator, alligators help keep other animal populations in check. Moreover, it does not stop there, because they also dig holes and leave trails throughout marshes which boost the habitats for fish and other marine invertebrates. A lot of people find alligators terrifying, but in fact, they are more afraid of humans. Here are the 40 facts about alligators that you need to know!
- Alligators are reptiles.
- They first appeared roughly 37 million years ago.
- Experts believe that the term alligator came from “el lagarto,” the Spanish term for “the lizard.”
- Early Spanish settlers and explorers in Florida named it alligator.
- They are endemic to the United States, China, and Mexico.
- Part of the crocodilian class, the alligator comes from the Alligator subfamily, which descends from the Alligatoridae lineage.
- There are still two surviving breeds of alligators: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator.
- American alligators can stretch up to 12 ft and have a weight of as much as 450 kg.
- Chinese alligators normally grow to around 5 ft or 1.5 meters.
- Male alligators are bigger compared to their female counterparts.
- Other names of Chinese alligators are Yangtze alligator, China alligator, and the muddy dragon.
- The Chinese alligator rarely exceeds 7 ft or 2.1 meters in length and weighs less than 45 kg or 100 lbs.
- Adults can have different colors such as brown, olive, and grayish-black, depending on where they live.
- The young ones, on the other hand, have vivid yellow or creamy stripes which strongly go against their dark skin. These colors help conceal them amongst tall grasses in swampy areas.
- Alligators have a lifespan of more than 50 years in the care of humans, but can only live for more than 30 years in their natural habitat.
- Alligators have a stubby, more bulbous nose compared to crocodiles who have lengthy, pointier snouts.
- Most crocodiles are bigger than alligators.
- Although crocodiles and alligators resemble each other physically, their genes are very different.
- Alligators and crocodiles can’t mate or interbreed.
- They have a “nictitating membrane” that safeguards their eyes, allowing them to see underwater comfortably.
Alligators can bite more than 50 times harder than humans.
The strongest bite force of alligators can reach up to 2,900 PSI, while crocodiles have the strongest bite pressure measuring 3,700 PSI. If we compare it to tigers and lions, it would roughly range between 750 to 1,000 PSI, while the bite force of humans usually averages around 70 PSI.
They have 80 conical-shaped teeth.
An adult alligator has 80 conical-shaped teeth. Alligators have no teeth for chewing or pulverizing food, thus they devour their food entirely. Moreover, they can replace their lost teeth naturally and may regenerate a lost tooth up to 50 times.
Muja is the oldest alligator on the planet.
This elderly American alligator that is currently in Serbia’s Belgrade Zoo, is 85 years old. This reptile survived WWII, and also the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. Muja became a hit on social media as the world’s oldest alligator in captivity. Muja’s diet consists of skinned rats, rabbits, birds, beef, and horse meat. However, his old age makes it a struggle for him to run for his food. Thus, zookeepers place it right in front of his jaw.
Alligators live in lakes, swamps, rivers, ponds, bayous, and marshes.
In the United States, most of the alligators live in Florida and Louisiana, where they stay in lakes, swamps, rivers, ponds, bayous, and marshes. Alligators are somewhat “ineffective” on land and they typically thrive in water. You can also find alligators in the south of Alabama, Georgia, and Mississippi, the eastern part of Texas, the tip of Arkansas in the south, and the southeast corner of Oklahoma.
They are opportunistic feeders.
Alligators are opportunistic feeders and their diets include different species that are abundant and easily available. Young alligators mainly eat bugs, tiny fish, amphibious animals, and other small creatures. Meanwhile, grown-up or adult alligators may eat snakes, turtles, fish, small mammals, and birds. Raccoons and muskrats are amongst its favorites for mammals and herons, storks, egrets, and waterfowl for the birds.
Alligators are extremely vocal creatures.
They create loud grunts called ‘bellows’ all year long, but it’s more notable during their mating season. According to experts, alligators make these sounds by exhaling either below or above the water depending on the species, although it’s yet to be discovered why they do it, some theory suggests that it’s useful for finding a mate and for resolving territorial disputes.
Their mating season starts in spring.
The mating season of the alligator occurs from May to June. Female alligators lay an average of 30 to 45 eggs which hatch in late summer or early fall. Alligators are very active during springtime as the weather warms, and their mating season starts. During spring, alligators are busier and more visible.
Alligators normally fear humans.
Alligators fear humans for obvious reasons, and will normally retreat when approached. If you ever encounter an alligator in the wild, it’s best to back away slowly and remember that it’s extremely rare for wild alligators to chase people. Based on statistics in the United States, injuries caused by venom, mainly from encounters with insects, account for an average of over 50 casualties annually, in contrast to an average of one casualty annually caused by alligators.
Normally, it can dive for more than 10 minutes.
In water, a typical dive of alligators can last from 10 to 20 minutes, easily. In addition, according to some reports, some alligator species may last underwater for more than 8 hours. The reduced muscular circulation is a crucial adjustment that enables the alligator to make limited oxygen last for a long underwater period, and slowing its heart rate to just 2 or 3 beats per minute, allows them to hold their breath more efficiently.
Alligators can swim faster than bottlenose dolphins.
Although alligators are not very good at running long distances as they tire quickly, they can run in short bursts of speed of up to 35 mph or 56 km/h on land, and they can swim up to 20 mph or 32 km/h. That’s faster than a bottlenose dolphin who can only swim at 18 mph or 28 km/h.
A Burmese python can eat a “young adult” alligator.
Burmese pythons have developed a strong breeding population in Everglades, Florida. As mentioned above, alligators feed on all kinds of reptilian animals, even pythons, on the regular. An adult and healthy alligator will have little trouble overpowering, killing, and eating any prey on its path. However, a fully grown Burmese python can reach over 20 ft in length and can become dangerous and may feast even on an alligator. You can watch it here!
The United States allows responsible alligator hunting.
Alligator meat has been available for quite some time, dating centuries back up to modern times, in a wide variety of dishes coming from the southern part of the US. Their meat is firm to the touch, yet tastes savory and is loaded with protein. In fact, it is low fat. In the U.S. (provided you have the appropriate licenses, tags, or permits), alligator hunting is allowed in a couple of states. Though if you’re not into this kind of adventure, you can directly purchase the meat from alligator farms.
Alligator eggs are also fit for consumption.
Their eggs have been a part of many Southern US region cuisines as early as the 1900s. Back in those years, people collected the eggs and put them up for sale to generate extra income. Today, if you don’t have a permit, harvesting wild alligator eggs is highly illegal and violators will face serious fines, sanctions, or even jail time. Alligator eggs are color white, hard, and just slightly bigger than a large chicken egg.
Their meat is high in protein.
For every 100 gm (3 1⁄2 oz) of alligator meat, it contains 29 gm of protein, only about 4 gm of fat (compared to beef that has 15 gm), 65 mg of cholesterol, and provides 600 kJ (143 kcal) of food energy. Moreover, it is packed with a significant amount of potassium, phosphorus, niacin, vitamin B12, and monounsaturated fatty acids.
Alligators do not hibernate.
During the cold season, alligators stay warm by withdrawing to tunnels and holes below roads or in the edges of lakes, most of these spots being underwater. Alligators do not hibernate. Moreover, in some places where it’s freezing cold, they may lower their body temperatures and slow their metabolisms effectively to survive the freezing winter season.
They can be both diurnal and nocturnal.
Alligators can adjust and adapt from diurnal and nocturnal, meaning they can be active both day and night. However, in general, they are most active between dusk and dawn, and they will consume mostly what is available to them as they don’t like to travel far for a meal.
Alligators can climb trees.
Some alligators don’t just stay in the water or on flat land, instead, they lurk in trees. Believe or not, alligators are able to crawl up trees even with their stubby legs if they want to. As long as they have enough incline to climb trees, alligators may relax or prey from the top of a tree. There are also some cases where alligators climb fences. Check it out for yourself!
‘Congregation’ is the name of their group.
They are social creatures and often meet in groups called congregations. These groups are usually seen enjoying the sun or taking a swim. However, some of the large male alligators can have a solitary attitude and tend to be territorial. Meanwhile, smaller alligators are often in large numbers since they can endure others that have the same size as them.
The Chinese alligator is critically endangered.
According to estimates, there are around 5 million American alligators that spread out across the southeastern United States and around 1 million of them live in the state of Florida. In contrast to its counterpart, the Chinese alligator is now critically endangered with fewer than 1,000 living in the wild, with some sources claiming that it could be as low as 150 individuals (due to human killing and habitat loss). Nonetheless, there are approximately 20,000 Chinese alligators living in captivity or under captive-breeding programs.
The Chinese alligator might have influenced the Chinese dragon.
Some scholars believe that the Chinese alligator was the inspiration for the Chinese dragon. This theory was popular since the beginning of the 20th century. Compared to different types of dragons in stories and legends of the West, the Chinese dragon represented royalty and prosperity, and was often portrayed as a hero. The harmless nature of the Chinese alligator (and the notion that it’s able to “swim in the air and water”) is assumed to have been an influence of the helpful nature of the Chinese dragon.
The Chinese alligator emerged from a defunct species.
In the late 1940s, experts recommended organizing the Chinese alligator in a separate category from the American alligator, due to the former’s thin layer on its top eyelid. That thin layer is a feature of caimans (an alligatorid belonging to the subfamily Caimaninae) but can be scarcely seen in American alligators. Paleontology, on the other hand, reveals that Chinese alligators have emerged from a defunct alligator species.
They grow the fastest in their first 5 years.
Alligators grow the fastest from birth through age 5. During that time, they increase their size by around 1 ft per year. Growth then slows down somewhat after those years, and they reach their maximum size at around 25 years of age.
Females can lay up to 50 eggs.
In general, alligators start being mature at ages 10 to 12, and can begin to mate. A 6 ft long female alligator is a good indicator that it is sexually mature. Typically, they can lay between 20 to 50 eggs, and the incubation requires approximately 63 to 68 days.
Temperature can help decide an offspring’s sex.
The sex ratios of alligator hatchlings can vary depending on local climatic conditions, but overall there seem to be more females than males. The usual gender ratio at hatching is about 5 females to 1 male. Temperature can help decide an offspring’s sex, with females hatching at 86°F (30°C), while males hatch at 93°F (34°C).
Hatchlings tend to have a low survival rate.
Around 33% of alligator nests are ruined by flooding and predators (mostly raccoons). The average clutch size of an alligator nest is 35. For nests that survive both the flooding and predators, an estimated 24 live hatchlings will rise, and eventually, only around 2 to 14 will survive. In alligator farms, eggs have up to a 98% survival rate.
Alligators regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun.
Alligators depend on external sources of heat to control their body temperature. They regulate their body temperature by sunbathing or traveling to places with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures. Alligators are most active at temperatures between 28°C to 33°C or 82°F to 92°F.
They are the “modern-day dinosaur.”
The latest proof suggests that dinosaurs come from a mutual ancestor that lived next to the mutual ancestor that they have in common with other cold-blooded animals. In other words, although alligators are identified as reptiles, they do share a similar DNA to birds, who are descended from dinosaurs.
Alligators might have evolved from warm-blooded ancestors.
Many reptiles have three heart chambers, while the heart of alligators, and all crocodilians, have four chambers. This characteristic is the same with other vertebrae and birds. The benefit of a four-chambered heart is that blood with oxygen and blood without oxygen are set apart, making breathing more effective, enabling mammals to have a high metabolism, but is quite difficult for crocodilians to grasp. Many experts believed that the intricate heart complex of crocodilians could suggest that they come from warm-blooded predecessors as well.
Their stomach acidity has a pH of lower than 2.
The alligator’s stomach is an unfriendly setting. Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2 (almost the range of lemon and vinegar) and most soft-bodied prey are totally digested for as little as two days, although bones and other hard parts of bigger animals can take more than 15 days to dissolve completely.
Alligators have built-in antibiotics in their blood.
They are quite durable, not only because of the bony armor in their skins, but also because of their built-in potent antibiotics. Serum in American alligator blood is incredibly effective at combating viruses and bacteria, so even if they cut themselves open in murky swamps, infections are resisted.