The American alligator ranges throughout the American southeast in freshwater marshes, rivers and swamps, where it basks by day and hunts by night. It is one of North America’s largest reptiles, growing as long as 18 feet. The American alligator can be distinguished from its relative the American crocodile by its round snout, darker color and the absence of visible teeth when the mouth is closed.
A remarkably well-adapted aquatic hunter, juvenile alligators prey on insects, small fish and frogs. As adults, they add larger prey like turtles, small mammals, birds, juvenile alligators, and have been known to take animals as large as deer. Despite its propensity for cannibalism, the alligator does care for its young. After a surprising slow and tender courtship, females build a mound nest, lay 25-52 eggs, let them incubate for approximately 65 days, then free the hatchlings when they cry to her. Young may remain with the mother as long as three years. If they survive the dangerous juvenile years, alligators may live as long as 35-50 years in the wild.
In the 20th century, humans nearly accomplished what 65 millions of nature couldn’t: the extinction of the American alligator. Hunted widely for its meat and belly skin, which makes high quality leather, the alligator was listed as endangered in 1967, though persistent poaching continued well into the 1970s. Concerted conservation efforts prevailed, however, and the creature was removed from the Endangered Species List in 1987. Over a million now live in the wild.May 14, 2012