Alligators are crocodilians in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two alligator species: the American and the Chinese (Alligator sinensis). The word “alligator” comes from the Spanish word for lizard, el lagarto, which is the term the early settlers of Florida used when they first encountered them.
The alligators in the Key West Aquarium are usually between the ages of 1 and 3 years old and are on loan from the Alligator Farm in Homestead, FL. When the reach a certain size or the age of 3, whichever comes first, they are returned to the farm and switched for younger alligators. They reside in the Key West Aquarium to further the education of one of Florida’s most important and well represented predators.
What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Alligators and crocodiles are in different families. Alligators have a wider, rounded U-shaped snout while crocs have a more pointed V-shaped snout. While alligators primarily live in the southeastern U.S., crocodiles are found in North, South, and Central America as well as Africa, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Crocodiles favor saltwater areas while alligators prefer freshwater and brackish water habitats. Southern Florida is the only place where alligators and crocodiles coexist.
Where are they found in the United States?
American alligators inhabit most of the southeastern United States; primarily Louisiana, Florida, and Georgia. The largest population of gators live in Gainesville, FL. They live in freshwater rivers, lakes, swamps, and marshes. There are an estimated five million American alligators in the southeastern U.S. with a quarter of the alligator population in Florida. Year after year we find that the Alligator Exhibit at the Aquarium is one of the most informative Key West Attractions because children and adults are always interested in learning information about alligators when they visit Florida.
How large can they grow?
Alligators can grow up to 800 pounds and 13 feet long on average. Females do have a tendency to be smaller than males. According to the Everglades National Park, the largest alligator ever recorded measured 17 feet, 5 inches.
What do they eat?
They eat primarily fish, birds, turtles, various mammals, and other reptiles. If the alligator is big enough it will eat larger prey such as deer, bear, razorbacks, or other alligators. If the gator has caught something too large to consume in one bite it typically drowns it by violently spinning it in the water. This is commonly called a “death roll”. It will then store it for a couple days to allow decomposition and easier consumption afterward.
How do you tell males from females?
You cannot tell a male from a female alligator unless you perform an internal examination by identifying it’s sexual organs. Judging the size of an alligator is not a reliable way to determine it’s sex.
How long do they live?
Alligators live an average of 35-50 years in the wild. They have been known to live 60-80 years in human care.
When do they reproduce?
Mating season is mid-April through May and alligators have a heightened aggression during this time. The female will build a nest in the vegetation in or around the water and lay a clutch of 20-50 eggs. Incubation is 60-65 days and hatchlings will stay with the mother for up to 2 years. Female alligators are fiercely protective of the nest and hatchlings and are especially dangerous. The temperature in the nest determines sex of the offspring. Temperatures above 93 degrees will produce males while temperatures of 86 degrees and below produce females.
How good is their sight? Smell? Hearing?
The senses of all crocodilians are quite powerful in comparison to other reptiles. They have an excellent sense of hearing and a well developed inner ear; mothers can actually hear hatchlings calling while still inside the eggs. They have extra sensory organs inside the snout for a heightened sense of smell and their vision above water can be compared to that of an owl. They also have excellent night vision and are thought to be able to see color.
What is the “growl” or “bellow” sound that the gators make?
Alligators have no vocal chords so the growl is a sound made when the gator sucks air into their lungs and blows it out to produce very loud, deep toned roars. It is used to show dominance, territorialism, and to attract mates.
Do alligators hunt people?
No, they do not. Alligators do not naturally regard humans as prey, unlike the crocodile. However, attacks on humans are on the rise due to the loss of their habitat and irresponsible behavior of humans (feeding them, approaching and harassing them) that all contribute to lessening their natural fear of man.
Are they endangered?
No, not anymore. They were removed from the endangered species list in 1987, but are still classified as a threatened species. The hunting and trapping of alligators is only legal through proper permits and strictly enforced quotas.