Crocodilia (caimans, crocodiles, and relatives)
Crocodylidae (crocodiles and relatives)
HABITAT AND RANGE
Found mostly in freshwater streams, swamps, marshes and lakes. They can tolerate a reasonable amount of salinity but only for a short period of time due to their lack of buccal glands. They probably prefer calmer waters due to the way they swim. In choppier water, they would have to raise their snouts higher out of the water making swimming more difficult. American alligators are found from the southern Virginia-North Carolina border, along the Atlantic coast to Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico as far west as the Rio Grande in Texas.
Females grow to about 3 meters long (9.8 feet) while males grow to 4-4.5 meters (13-14.7 feet) long. There have been reports of alligators reaching lengths of up to 20 feet but no recent sightings or recordings exist. They have characteristically short legs that are more than capable of carrying the body at a gallop. Their snouts are broader and more blunt that crocodiles. Their backs are armored with thick scales and embedded boney plates called osteoderms or scutes. The nostrils and eyes are placed on the top of the head allowing the animal to keep the rest of its body entirely submerged. They have up to 80 teeth and can grow new teeth as old ones wear down (alligators may go through 3,000 teeth in a lifetime). Juveniles have yellow banded tails that disappear at maturity.
American alligators are carnivores that consume fish, turtles, snakes, mammals and carrion. They swallow their food whole employing the ‘death roll’ to tear off sizeable chunks of food. They do most of their hunting from the water laying in ambush. To kill larger prey they drag it into the water to drown it.
REPRODUCTION AND LIFESPAN
Males and females reach sexual maturity when they reach 6 feet in length (10-12 years old). Mating takes places during nighttime in shallow water, more dominant males will mate with more females. The female lays 35-50 eggs on the ground and covers the nest with vegetation. She then defends the nest until 6-8 inch long hatchlings emerge and emit calls for their mother to remove the vegetation and bring them to the water. She will defend her young for 1-3 years. Males can be cannibalistic and will prey on young. American alligators in the wild live 35-50 years while in captivity they can live up to 80.
Alligators have a third eyelid that comes over the eye to achieve sharp vision underwater. Alligators have a special valve at the back of their mouth called a glottis which allows them to keep water out of their throat while capturing prey under water.