Anyone spending any time in Florida will notice the alligator warning signs and will eventually see one whether wandering across a golf course or as they drive around near their wetland habitat. Alligators only exist in two locations, China and the southeast of the USA, predominantly Louisiana and Florida. Although similar, alligators found in China tend to be considerably smaller than their American cousins.
The American alligator was once considered an endangered species but a successful program of State protection, improvement and preservation of their natural habitat and a dramatic reduction in demand for alligator sourced products has led to the species thriving with an estimated wild population in excess of one million. The alligator’s durability has contributed to its 150 million year existence and allowed the species to survive when similar species, like the dinosaurs, became extinct.
Alligators are large reptiles with an adult male growing up to 15 feet long and weighing in at up to 1000 pounds. They live in the freshwater environments that can be found in abundance in Florida, including rivers, lakes, marshlands and swamps.
The species feed on a variety of animals including turtles, fish, snakes and coypu, helping keep the latter population under control. While alligators usually dine on animals they can swallow in one go, they will eat larger creatures if given the opportunity. They will seize larger animals and drag them under water until they drown. They will digest larger prey either by waiting for the animal corpse to rot or by tearing chunks of the animal off by gripping the animal with its powerful jaws and twisting its body around a number of times, in what is known as the ‘death roll’. Alligators will normally avoid human contact moving away if approached, although they will attack if threatened (or hungry!). Feeding alligators is illegal in Florida to ensure that the reptiles do not start associating humans with food, leading to greater contact between the species, with obvious greater risk. Alligators have extremely strong muscles to close their jaws, useful for capturing prey, but comparatively weak muscles for opening their jaws allowing a reasonably strong person to hold an alligators mouth shut with their bare hands.
Adult alligators are solitary creatures and very territorial to boot, selecting and defending prime freshwater locations. Younger alligators are much more tolerant of each other and will spend much time in large groups.
If you want to get a closer look at alligators then the controlled environment of Gatorland is a good place to start.