Description: The name “alligator” probably derives from the Spanish el lagarto, the lizard, which is what early Spanish settlers in Florida (and probably South Carolina) called the alligator. An average alligator is 13 feet long and weighs 790 pounds. One alligator was recorded to live 76 years, but on average they live 30-50 years. Alligators vary from crocodiles primarily by the shape of the jaw, which is narrower on the crocodile. Crocodiles are also considered more aggressive than the docile American alligator. The alligator lives in freshwater wetlands, as well as brackish (somewhat saline) environments. When they construct holes in the wetlands they help increase plant variety, and are therefore an important species to maintain coastal ecologies. They feed on fish, turtles, deer, birds, and even carrion if they are really hungry. At Hunting Island, alligators occasionally have been seen riding the surf. They can tolerate saltwater for several hours.
Range: Alligators are native only to the US and are found on the coasts of North and South Carolina, all of Florida and Louisiana, and southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Only in southern Florida do crocodiles and alligators live side-by-side.
Photo by Richard Darby
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