1. The alligator is a member of the crocodile family. Alligators and crocodiles are from the Age of Reptiles which means they have survived for 200 million years. Alligators and their relatives are the last of the living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs.
2. Alligators are found throughout the Southeast, from the Carolinas to Texas and north to Arkansas and they live in wetlands. As predators at the top of the food chain, they help control numbers of animals that might strip the vegetation in the marsh’s wetlands.
3. Alligators have a life span of approximately 30 years in the wild and up to 50 years in captivity.
4. Alligators are cold blooded which means they do not make their own body heat. They gain body heat by sunbathing.
5. A mature male alligator can reach a length of 14 feet and weigh approximately 1,000 pounds. The largest alligator ever recorded in the United States was found in Louisiana. It was 19 feet 2 inches long and weighed 2,000 pounds.
6. The crocodile has a narrower snout, and unlike the alligator, has teeth in the lower jaw which are visible even when its mouth is shut. Adult alligators are black, while crocodiles are brownish in color. The alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with a broad head and thick limbs. It also has a very powerful tail which it uses to move itself through water. The tail accounts for half the alligator's length. Alligators move very quickly in water, but they move slowly on land. They can, however, move very quickly for short distances. Some alligators have been known to travel at a speed of 35 miles per hour for a very short distance.
7. Alligators will eat just about anything, but their primary diet consists of snails, fish, and turtles. Small animals that come to the water's edge to drink make easy prey for the alligator. Young alligators mostly feed on insects, crustaceans, snails, and fish.
8. Alligators mate in the spring. They can mate when they are between 8 to 13 years old. The male bellows to attract a female. The female builds a nest with mud, sticks and leaves. She finds a sheltered spot near the edge of the water. The female lays between 20 to 50 eggs. The heat of an alligator's nest determines the sex of the babies. If the eggs are incubated for 65 days at over 93 degrees Fahrenheit, they become males. If the eggs are incubated for 65 days at temperatures below 86 degrees, they will turn out to be females. In-between temperatures produces both. When the young begin making a high-pitch noise, the female alligator begins to dig them out of the nest. The babies are born with a series of yellow bands around their bodies. Shortly after birth, they find their way to the water. Females aggressively defend their young for sometimes more than a year. Alligators are considered adults when they have reached a length of six feet.
9. Alligators create water holes by uprooting vegetation and clawing away mud. This hole is called a “gator hole” and creates a place where it fills with water and provides water for fish, insects, turtle, birds, and many other animals including the alligator itself.
10. In 1967, the alligator was listed as an endangered species, but a combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and state wildlife agencies in the South saved these unique animals.