Amazing Alligator Anecdotes and Fast Facts
When the American alligator was first listed as endangered in the 1960s, many people believed it would never recover. The species was overhunted for more than a century for their hides and meat. After alligators received federal protections from the Endangered Species Act, however, it became clear they needed to be left alone in order to recover.
The ESA prohibited alligator hunting for many years and alligator populations rebounded. Today there are healthy populations of alligators but to ensure overhunting does not occur again, many states within the alligator’s range have regulated hunting seasons and monitor populations.
Even though they are no longer endangered, it is important to reflect on this ESA success story so we can help alligators continue to thrive.
Let’s check out eight amazing American alligator facts:
1. About 5 million American alligators are spread out across the southeastern U.S.
American alligators can be found in freshwater swamps, sloughs and wetlands in Florida, southern Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi and parts of Georgia, Alabama and North and South Carolina. Of those five million, roughly 1.25 million alligators live in the state of Florida alone.
2. Coastal North Carolina is currently considered the northernmost extent of the alligator’s range.
Like all reptiles, alligators’ range and habitat are completely dependent on prey availability and temperature. Coastal North Carolina is currently considered the northernmost extent of the alligator’s range largely due to relatively mild winter temperatures. Some scientists estimate their range is slowly expanding due to climate change. Alligators have been found as far north as Chesapeake, Virginia, and inland areas like Columbia, South Carolina where they have not been seen before.
3. Alligators live in all kinds of water.
American alligators can be found in both fresh and brackish water. Throughout their range, you can reasonably expect to find them in any body of water large enough to sustain their individual size. This includes, but is certainly not limited to: ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps and drainage ditches. American alligators have also been seen in saltwater, but it’s not suitable for long-term habitation.
4. Alligators are a keystone species.
Young alligators play the role of predator and prey, but once an alligator grows to a certain size, there are few species who can stand up to them. They keep their aquatic habitats from being overpopulated by other species, and their movement along the water’s floor controls the growth of some types of vegetation that may otherwise choke out a body of water. They will create “gator holes” in muddy areas by wallowing, or rolling around, which provide essential habitats for a variety of species as the availability of freshwater changes seasonally.
5. Alligators will eat just about anything they find.
Alligators are opportunistic predators. Young gators primarily eat insects, baby turtles and small fish, while adults will prey upon larger fish, turtles and unsuspecting animals on the shoreline. Even though alligators will hunt and kill very large prey, they tend to eat their meals in smaller portions. They even cache prey underwater so they can take their time eating it.
6. Alligators are excellent ambush predators.
When hunting terrestrial species, alligators lay in wait until they can take their prey by surprise, dragging it back into the water for the characteristic drowning “gator death roll.” Once a large prey animal is drowned, alligators will tuck the body under submerged logs or rocks to allow decomposition to occur, which makes it much easier for alligators to tear off soft morsels.
7. Alligators sex is temperature-determined in the egg.
Alligator eggs need to be incubated around 86 degrees Fahrenheit to produce females and around 93 degrees Fahrenheit to yield males. It’s important to note that with a changing climate, including increased temperatures, there could be a reduction in the number of female alligators hatched. Baby American alligators generally hatch in mid-August.
8. Alligators need large, robust habitats to keep them safe from humans.
Florida is an example of how habitat degradation can lead to alligator-human conflict. As their natural habitat is developed, alligators find their way into backyard pools and drainage ponds, putting them near humans and vehicles. Like many keystone species, protecting habitat and habitat connectivity is paramount to a secure future.
Now that you’ve learned some fun facts about American alligators, please join Defenders of Wildlife in helping keep this species from becoming endangered again. Speak up about the importance of understanding predators’ roles in our ecosystems and protecting critical habitat for all wildlife.
We are amidst counting down 50 days, featuring 50 species, for the 50th Anniversary of the Endangered Species Act! Follow Defenders to learn more about American alligators and the other 49 species we’re highlighting!