The American Alligator is North America’s largest reptile.

The American alligator is a large, semi-aquatic, armored reptile that primarily live in the southeastern portion of the United States. Young alligators are black and tan but adults are almost completely black in color with coarse scales over their entire body. Their front feet have five toes but their rear feet have only four toes that are webbed.

They have large heads with visible upper teeth along the edge of their jaws. They typically avoid humans but they can become aggressive when people invade their territories or when people get too close to their nest before their eggs have hatched. It is always wise to be cautious when alligators are near because they can be unpredictable.

American Alligators are effective swimmers and spend a majority of their time in the water. When they are in the water they often float or swim with only their eyes and nostrils exposed. It can be difficult to see alligators when they are mostly submerges so it is easy to get close to them without knowing.

Cold blooded animals

Alligators are cold blooded and they regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun or moving to areas with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures. They are most active when the temperatures are between 82 to 92 degrees F. They stop feeding when the ambient temperature drops below 70 F and they become dormant below 55 F which means they are dormant throughout much of the winter but they occasionally emerge from their burrows to bask in the sun during periods of warm weather.

Clutch Size

March through May is the alligator’s peak time for breeding and nesting. During breeding season, females stay close to home territories. Females will build a nest up to 6 feet across and several feet high. She lays typically 30 to 45 eggs in the center of this mound where the warmth of the mound incubates the eggs. The eggs hatch after about 2 month and the female will watch and defend the nest during this time.

As the young hatch they will “yip” and the female will assist them by digging them out of the nest. Young alligators will stay near the female for up to two year and the female will protect them during this period.

Strange Behavior

Alligators are typically very quiet but they can be very vocal. Young alligators make a barking noise but adults will bellow, grunt or hiss depending on the circumstances.

Recently while hiking along a lake, I noticed a large alligator swimming across the lake. Suddenly, I heard a loud bellowing noise coming from the other side of the lake. Instantly, the alligator in the lake stopped swimming, raised his head out of the water and went into a position that looked like the loch ness monster. He then made a similarly sounding loud bellowing noise that sent the water above his submerged back flying into the air. They took turns bellowing at each other for about a minute and they everything went quiet again.

I have seen many alligators over the years but I have never seen this strange behavior before. I don’t know if they were establishing their territory or it might have been some kind of mating ritual as it was spring time. The reasons are unknown to me but it was an amazing wildlife encounter that I am glad I was able to witness.

A photo for thought

Sometimes I see an occurrence that I really don’t know how to describe and the photo below is one of those occurrences. While hiking through the forest in southeast Texas, I spotted this alligator on the bank of a small lake. I never expected to see such a large alligator in this setting. Out of hundreds of alligators that I have seen in my lifetime, it is probably the largest alligator that I have ever seen. To get a prospective of how big this alligator is, Black Vultures stand between 24 to 30 inches tall, so my guess is that this alligator is at least 12 feet long and weighs around 1000 pounds. It is a true monster!

Seeing an alligator of this size is rare but seeing it completely surrounded by about 50 Black Vultures is a little eerie. Alligators don’t normally attack humans but they are dangerous and groups of vultures are normally seen feasting on dead carcasses. I have no explanation why so many vultures were grouped around such a huge alligator but this occurrence kind of creeped me out because it symbolized danger and death. Needless to say, I took a few photos and eagerly continued on my hike.

What makes this photo even stranger is that it was taken on Christmas Eve. Alligator sightings are not that common during the winter months but it was an unusual warm day so it was probably just trying to warm up while it had a chance.

One of the things that I like about spending time in nature is that uncommon occurrences can happen in common places.

About the American Alligator

Location: Southeastern United States from Texas to North Carolina.

Habitat: They prefer fresh water and are common in lakes, swamps, rivers, bayous and marshes.

Life Span: 30 to 50 years but some alligators have lived over 80 years.

Size: The longest alligator recorded reached a length of 17ft. 5in in Florida and the heaviest ever recorded weighed in a 1,380 pounds in Arkansas. Female alligators rarely exceed 10 feet in length

Diet: Alligators are carnivorous and will eat anything they can catch including fish, turtles, lizards, snakes small mammals, water birds and even other alligators. Juvenile alligators eat primarily insects, amphibians, small fish and invertebrates.

The Dust on My Shoes

Growing up in a small town on the upper Texas coast, I have been around American Alligators virtually all of my life. I have never had any altercations with alligators but I have always respected that they are dangerous and unpredictable.

Many times when I have approach an alligator it will move out of my way by going from the land into the water but sometimes it will stand its ground and not move. This is the time when I back off and don’t get too close. The alligator probably has a reason that it does not want anyone coming close.

I think of alligators as having quite confidence. They are the top predator in the area and they know it! They basically come and go as they like without making a big scene.

Alligators aren’t pretty but seeing them in the wild is exciting!

I never know what I will see when I spend time in nature. Many times what I see is beautiful, sometimes I see survival of wildlife and sometimes what is less than pretty but it is always exciting!

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2 thoughts on “American Alligator”

    1. Thanks Mike! Alligators don’t get much attention but like most animals, they are very interesting when we take time to learn about them.

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