American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)

American alligator at Brazos Bend State Park.Photo © Justin W. Moore

American alligator at Brazos Bend State Park
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Attaining a length of six to eight feet at adulthood, the American alligator is North America’s largest flesh-eating reptile. The alligator’s thick and powerful tail, used for propulsion and defense, accounts for half its body length. Similar in appearance to the endangered American crocodile, the American alligator has a stockier build and broader head and snout; unlike crocodiles, alligators’ teeth are not visible when their jaws are closed.

Alligators inhabit the states of Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, and the Carolinas. Their preferred habitat includes shallow lakes, ponds, swamps, marshes, and rivers. Widespread hunting threatened the species with extinction in the 1960s, causing the American alligator to receive federal protection under the Endangered Species Act in 1973. Today, the species has made a remarkable recovery, such that controlled hunting is permitted in some areas. The American alligator still receives federal protection as a threatened species. Alligators have an average lifespan of fifty years.

Alligator lounging.Photo © Justin W. Moore

Alligator close-up
Photo © Justin W. Moore

Alligators enjoy an extremely varied diet, feeding on delicacies such as insects, frogs, fish, turtles, birds, and land mammals. At home in the water, and surprisingly agile on land, alligators have a distinct advantage against any potential prey that finds itself in or near their grasp. Although instances of alligator attacks on people are relatively rare, human negligence and continued habitat destruction could lead to further tragedies.

Two of the best places to observe American alligators in the wild in Texas are Aransas National Wildlife Refuge and Brazos Bend State Park.

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