The American Alligator

The American Alligator
The American alligator is one of two species belonging to the Alligatoridae family, the other being the Chinese alligator. Its scientific name is Alligator Mississippiensis. This reptile belonging to the Crocodilia order is considered an apex predator in the Southeast of the United States. The numerous states with alligator populations are: North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Virginia, Oklahoma and Texas. The largest populations are found in Florida (1 to 1.5 million) and Louisiana (1.5 million). These numbers are amazing when you consider that the American alligator was belonging to the Endangered Species list in 1967. It recovered in 20 years, to everyone's surprise, and was taken off the list in 1987. This amazing recovery was partly due to the partnership of protective groups and laws as well as alligator farms.

This reptile can be observed in wetlands where they thrive. In fact, scientists say that wetlands need alligators as much as the alligators need wetlands. Their relationship is quite simple. Alligators feed on rodents and other animals that may destroy the vegetation due to an oversized population. Alligators help to ensure a natural balance that allows plants and animals to live in good conditions, avoiding starvation.

A mature American alligator is usually displaying a green, gray, olive, brown or black skin color. Oddly, the color of its skin depends on the vegetation and the acidity level of its environment. The more vegetation, the greener it is while a higher acidity level will cause the skin to be a darker color.

Males are larger than females. The length of a male alligator will vary from 3 to 4.6 m (10 to 15 ft) and will reach a weight of 453 kg (1,000 lb). Females will reach a maximum length of 3 m (9.8 ft).

There are three odd facts regarding the American alligator. The first one is that this reptile has the strongest bite ever recorded by any living animal. The measurement of their bite is 2,125 lbf (pound force). The second one is that oddly enough, alligators have no vocal chords. I say odd because they can be heard bellowing or use infra sounds (sounds below 20 Hz (Hertz), causing vibrations known as alligator dance. They bellow by sucking the air into their lungs and blowing it out intermittently, making deep roaring sounds. The last one is that alligators can be submerged for long periods of time, depending on their level of activity. The time can range from hours if they swim leisurely down to 20 minutes if they hunt or swim faster. They can do this by rerouting their blood so their lungs do not need as much oxygen.

Unlike most reptiles, females are known to stay with their partners following reproduction. Some have been together for years. The American alligator is known to mate in the spring. It can be heard bellowing in congregations to attract females. The female will build a nest of twigs, grass and mud. She will lay from 20 to 50 white eggs and will cover them with vegetation. As the vegetation decays, the temperature will rise, keeping the eggs warm. The temperature will determine the sex of the hatchlings. Temperatures ranging from 32 to 34 degrees Celsius (90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit) will produce males, temperatures ranging from 23 to 30 degrees Celsius (82 to 86 degrees Fahrenheit) will produce females and temperatures in between will produce both sexes. As soon as a baby is born, it will produce high pitch sounds, alerting the female who will rapidly dig it out.

The babies will remain with their mother for the first five months of their life. They will feed on the yolk in their stomach for several days before they prey on insects, larvae, small fish, snails, spiders, invertebrates and worms. As they grow, they will also include larger fish, small mammals (rats, mice), frogs and mollusks. The babies are striped, yellow and black to help camouflage themselves from their predators: snakes, raccoons, snapping turtles, American black bears and largemouth bass. The odd part is that these same predators will become part of the diet of the American alligator as it reaches adulthood between 8 and 13 years of age. As adults, this reptile will feed on just about anything, adding the following creatures to its diet: carrion, deer, wild boars, dogs, cattle, sheep and the Florida panther.

The average lifespan of the American alligator, in the wilderness, is ranging from 35 to 50 years of age.

Since 1948, there have been 275 unprovoked attacks in Florida, 17 of them being fatal. There have been only 9 fatal attacks throughout the United States from the 70�s to the 90�s. From 2001 to 2007, 12 deaths were linked to attacks from alligators. In May 2006, 3 people were killed within a week, 2 during the same day.

An unusual tourist attraction that was born in the early 20th century and still remains nowadays is alligator wrestling. This activity was born of myths and fears from two tribes located in Florida.

While alligator farms contributed to the amazing recovery of the American alligator population, its goals now aim profit rather than environmental issues. Approximately, 45,000 hides are produced in these farms, ranging over an average of $300 per hide. Alligator meat has also recently increased in demand as 140,000 kg (300,000 lb) of meat is sold every year. The meat is used in: soups, stew and jambalaya.

I find it sad that something that was born with a humble goal is now focusing on exploiting this species. I certainly hope that greed will not eventually bring the American alligator back to the brink of extinction. I guess, as much as there is a demand, there will be a supply. Let's do something about it!

Here are some resources linked to the American alligator!

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