live | Alligator's predatory habits
| Danger of alligators to humans | Gator
holes | Wetlands landscape
What alligators look like
Alligators are large, lizard-shaped reptiles that have a
- scaly, dark-colored hide
- broad snout and
- long muscular tail.
Note: Young alligators have bright stripes and yellow blotches,
and then as they mature their skin becomes dark.
Protecting the alligator
An estimated 10 million alligators were killed for their skins
between 1870 and 1970, when hunting controls were initiated.
The American alligator is now listed as a threatened species
under the federal Endangered Species Act.
Though the alligator has benefited from legal protection and is
now abundant in many areas, habitat loss and changes in water management
continue to threaten the alligator, as well as many other wildlife
species in Florida.
Where alligators live
The American alligator
- lives only in the southeastern part of the country
- is usually found in fresh water and
- is restrained by the cold temperature and distribution of the
American crocodiles are
rare in Florida and are very secretive, if you see a crocodilian
in the wild, it is most likely an alligator.
Alligator living arrangements are not random, they are determined
Alligators once dominated life in Florida's wetlands. By building
and maintaining ponds and nests, alligators created a habitat that
supports a rich array of life in the wetlands. The decline of the
alligator throughout most of the 20th Century has disrupted
this relationship and altered the ecology of Florida's wetlands.
Alligator's predatory habits
Alligators eat anything that they catch, including
- dead animals
- other alligators and
- the occasional human.
An alligator can float motionless in the water with only its eyes
and nostrils exposed, waiting for a meal. Its powerful jaws can
easily crush the shell of a turtle or the bones of an animal.
Danger of alligators to humans
Alligators have been known to injure or kill people and pets. Most
attacks occur in the water, suggesting victims are mistaken for
prey. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission receives
thousands of nuisance complaints every year. Many of these alligators
must be killed because there are few places where they can be relocated.
In the swamps and marshes of Florida, the typical home of the alligator
is an alligator pond, referred to as a "gator hole," which
is a depression that holds water during the dry season. Without
a resident alligator, the ponds fill up with mud and vegetation
within a few years.
The ponds, nests and trails of alligators have shaped and contoured
the landscape of the Florida wetlands. The compacted vegetation
left in the old nest mounds and pond banks form a peat that is resistant
to decay and fire. In fact, much of the high ground in the Everglades
can be traced to alligators.