American Alligator

Alligator mississippiensis

A member of the crocodile family, the American alligator is a living fossil from the Age of Reptiles, having survived on earth for 200 million years.

The alligator’s greatest value to the marsh and other animals within it are the “gator holes” that many adults create and expand through the years. An alligator uses its mouth and claws to uproot vegetation to clear out a space; then, shoving with its body and slashing with its powerful tail, it wallows out a depression that stays full of water in the wet season and holds water after the rains stop. During the dry season, and particularly during extended droughts, gator holes provide vital water for fish, insects, crustaceans, snakes, turtles, birds, and other animals in addition to the alligator itself.

Historically, alligators were depleted from many parts of their range as a result of market-hunting and habitat loss. Forty years ago many people believed this unique reptile would never recover. In 1967, under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the alligator was listed as endangered, meaning it was considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

A combined effort by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and State wildlife agencies in the South saved these unique animals. The Endangered Species Act prohibited alligator hunting, allowing the species to rebound in numbers in many areas where it had been depleted. As it began to make a comeback, States established alligator monitoring programs and used the information to ensure that numbers continued to increase. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species. Today, alligators are found throughout the Southeast, from the Carolinas to Texas and north to Arkansas.

Facts About American Alligator

Diet: opportunists, they will eat almost anything, primarily fish

Size: up to 14 feet and 600 pounds

Lifespan: up to 40 years or longer