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THE ALLIGATOR

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Alligator Myths and Facts. 

Myth: Alligators live for hundreds of years. 

Fact: Alligators in the wild are believed to live 35 - 50 years. In captivity their lifespan may be significantly longer, perhaps 60-80 years. Currently, there are no scientific methods of analyzing an alligators age while it is alive. 

Myth: Alligators can grow to enormous proportions, over 20 feet in length and weighing a ton or more. 

Fact: The longest recorded length for an alligator is 19' 2'. This animal was trapped in the early 1900's in the State of Louisiana. Most wild alligators do not get above 13 feet in length, and may weigh 600 pounds or more. 

Myth: Crocodiles and alligators open their jaws differently. The jaws of the crocodile are hinged to open the top jaw, while alligators open their bottom. 

Fact: Alligators and crocodiles jaws are hinged the same. Both animals hinge their jaws on the bottom, the top jaw is simply an extension of the skull. 

Myth: Alligators are immune to the bite of poisonous snakes. 

Fact: Alligators are not immune to snake poison. However, they do have extremely tough skin, and an armored back protected by bony plates called scutes. It is possible that this protection may prevent a
snake's fangs from penetrating the skin. 

Myth: Only the tail of the alligator is edible. 

Fact: Although the tail of the alligator is considered the prime cut, all the meat of the alligator is edible. 

Myth: Alligators are slow moving animals when they are out of the water.

Fact: Alligators can run at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour. However that speed can only be maintained for a very short distance.

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The alligator is an amazing reptile, having survived almost unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs. Having been hunted almost to the brink of extinction, this reptile has made an amazing comeback in recent years, inhabiting almost every body of water in Florida. The alligator is a very important part of our
wildlife heritage, and plays an extremely important part in Florida's ecosystem. During the dry season, alligators create "gator holes" which may be the only source of water around. This provides sustenance not only to the wildlife of the area, but to the alligator as well. Alligators also feed upon the "trash fish" such as gars, which are natural predators of young game fish like bass. The alligator is now considered to be a renewable resource, and is an important part in Florida's growing aquaculture industry. 

The relationship between alligators and man dates back thousands of years. The first human residents of Florida hunted the alligator for its hide and meat. The teeth of an alligator were believed to be a magical ward against snakebites, as alligators were thought to be immune to the bite of poisonous snakes. The leather was used by the natives to make all types of leather items, even musical instruments such as drums. 

When the Spaniards first arrived in Florida, they were amazed at this large reptile calling it "el lagarto" (the lizard). It is from this early Spanish term that we derived the name alligator. This fearsome reptile can grow to an extremely large size, and wild alligators of 13 feet or more are not uncommon. Fortunately, alligators in the wild do exhibit a natural fear of man. If left alone, an alligator would much rather stay away from humans than attack them. In the State of Florida it is illegal to feed a wild alligator, as doing so tends to make the animal associate humans with food and it loses its natural fear of man. 

But attacks on humans do occur, and there have been several fatal alligator attacks in Florida. Many of these attacks involve small children or swimmers, however most attacks can be attributed to human error. One of the most important rules is should you see an alligator in the wild...Leave It Alone. Alligators are not to be feared, but they are to be respected. Capable of reaching lengths over 13feet and weighing over 600 pounds, alligators have a crushing power of 3,000 psi in their jaws. Despite their appearance, alligators are extremely quick and agile. They are capable of amazingly fast bursts of speed, if only for a short distance. It has been said that an alligator can outrun a horse for a distance of 30 feet. 

Alligators are now protected by both state and federal regulations. It is illegal to hunt or trap a wild alligator without a permit. The Florida Fish and Game Commission oversees several management
programs for the alligator. One of these is the nuisance alligator program, where alligators deemed to be dangerous to man or domestic animals are removed by private trappers. Should you have any questions or complaints about alligators in your area, consult your local Fish and Game Commission. 

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Feeding Habits 

Alligators are carnivorous reptiles whose primary feeding time is at night. Small alligators will eat snails, frogs, insects, and small fish. Larger gators will eat fish, turtles, snakes, waterfowl, small mammals, and even smaller alligators. Examinations of alligators' stomachs have even found such objects as stones, sticks, cans, fishing lures and other assorted items. 

Alligators swallow their food whole. The teeth of an alligator are conical shaped and are made for grabbing and holding, not for cutting. When dealing with larger prey, an alligator may shake its head or spin its body in order to tear off a piece small enough to swallow. They have also been known to hold food in their mouth until it deteriorates to the point they can swallow it. 

Alligators have a specialized valve in their throat called a glottis that enables the gator to capture its prey underwater. However, in order to swallow its food and thus keep itself from drowning, an alligator must
lift its head out of the water. 

 

Reproduction 

The sexual maturity of the alligator is dependent more upon the size of the animal than its age. An alligator is generally considered sexually mature when it reaches a length of six feet or more. Dependent upon
environmental factors, a wild alligator may attain this length in about ten to twelve years. In a controlled captive environment, sexual maturity may occur in a much shorter time span. 

The alligators breeding season begins in April, during which time the courtship rituals begin. The courtship rituals of the alligator are quite complex, involving touching, rubbing, the blowing of bubbles and some
vocalizations. The actual mating takes place in open water, and involves a coitus method not unlike most animals. Alligators are not monogamous, one male may service up to ten or more females in his territory. Male alligators are territorial animals during the breeding season, and will defend their area against other male intruders. 

After mating, the female alligator moves into the marshy areas and shoreline where she will begin to construct a nest;. Using her back feet, the female will scratch together a mound of sticks, mud and
vegetation. Into this mound she will deposit her eggs, and it is the breakdown of the nesting material that helps keep the eggs warm. Female alligators begin to lay their eggs in late June and early July. Alligators tend to lay about 40-45 eggs on the average, however, the rate of fertility varies with the age of the female. 

The incubation period of the eggs is 65 days. During this time the female alligator guards her nest against intruders. Raccoons for example, are notorious nest raiders, and have been known to completely destroy a nest. The eggs begin to hatch in August through September, during which time the baby alligators make-high pitched grunting noises to alert the mother gator. The female alligator will then uncover the nest releasing the babies, and some females have even been known to carry their young to the water. 

The young alligators are known as hatchlings, and are about 6-8 inches at birth. After birth, the hatchling alligators form groups called "pods" and may stay in the same vicinity of their nesting site for several years. Until the next breeding season begins, the female alligator will remain near her brood, defending them against predators. The first few years of a hatchlings life are the most dangerous, as anything that can eat a small alligator will! Snakes, wading birds, osprey, raccoons, otters, large bass, garfish, even larger alligators will feed upon the young alligator. Once the alligator reaches about 4 feet, its only real predator is man. 

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Habitat 

The American Alligator (Alligator Mississipiensis) is found only in the southeastern part of the United States, from the Carolinas, down to Florida and over to Texas. The Chinese Alligator (Alligator Sinensis) is very rare and can only be found in the Yangtze River Basin in China. 

Alligators inhabit primarily fresh water to brackish water areas, although they can occasionally be found in salt water. However, alligators lack the salt-extracting glands of crocodiles and are unable to survive in salt water for extended periods of time. 

The alligator is found only in the southeastern United States and in China. Alligators have a short, blunt and rounded snout. Adults tend to be a grayish black in color while the young can be more colorful with
yellow or white highlights on a black body. The Chinese alligator is quite small, only attaining a length of 6 feet. The American Alligator however is quite large, with a record length of 19' 2". Fortunately, the American Alligator is not considered to be a man-eater. In the wild, alligators tend to exhibit a natural fear of man. 

Caimans are found primarily in Central and South America. There are many types of caiman, the most "popular" being the spectacled caiman (Caiman Sclerops). This reptile was widely used in the pet trade, often sold as "baby alligators". Caiman are normally small and squat reptiles with an extremely toothy grin. The caiman that most resemble the alligator in size and appearance is the Black Caiman (Melanosuchus Niger). The Black Caiman is found in the Amazon River Basin and is said to attain a length of 13 feet. 

Crocodiles are characterized by a long and tapered snout. They tend to be light tan to brownish in color. There are many types of crocodiles, some only reaching a maximum length of 6 feet while others can attain a length of over 23 feet. Crocodiles can be found all over the world, here in the United States we have one type of crocodile, the American Crocodile (Crocodylus Acutus). The American Crocodile is very rare and in the United States can only be found in the Key West to Florida Bay area. Two types of crocodiles are considered to be man-eaters, the Salt Water Crocodile (Crocodylus Porosus), and the Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus Niloticus). 

                                                       

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