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 and eyes more dorsally located than their crocodile cousins. 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), though 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. and 13 feet long. According to the Everglades National Park website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long (5.3 meters). The largest alligator ever recorded measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 meters) 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 meters) 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 the zoo's opening in 1936, making it at least 70 years old.
Fun Alligator Facts
- There are only two countries on earth that have alligators: the United States and China.
- The Chinese alligator is endangered and lives only in the Yangtze River valley, though currently Rockefeller Wildlife refuge in southern Louisiana has several in captivity in an attempt to preserve the species. There are only estimated to be a couple of dozen left in the wild. There are many more of these alligators in zoos around the world than in the wild.
- Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles per hour, though this could more properly be classified as a short fast lunge rather than a dash.
- Alligators are opportunistic feeders, eating almost anything they can catch. When they are young they eat fish, insects, snails, and crustaceans. As they grow they take progressively larger prey items, including: larger fish such as gar, turtles, various mammals, birds, and other reptiles.
- While alligators are often confused with crocodiles, they belong to two quite separate taxonomic families, and are as distinct from one another as humans are from gorillas. As for appearance, one generally reliable rule is that alligators have U-shaped heads, while crocodiles are V-shaped - which can be remembered by noting that "A" in alligator comes before "C" in crocodile, and "U" comes before "V."
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