Oh dear, oh dear, this little doggie is feeling some fear! Swimming around the fresh water marshes of Terrebonne Parish is a great way for a "hot dog" to cool off. On a short swim to shore I saw what I thought was a log..then, SPLASH, and that log was gone! I bee- lined it back to the boat! Warm, sunny weather has brought out the reptile that gives me the shakes. The American Alligator, Alligator mississippiensis.
Learning about this reptile that has successfully existed for over two million years is a never ending process. CC spent more than two years researching and photographing it before writing his last book, THE ALLIGATOR BOOK. He said he only tipped the iceberg of alligator knowledge!
Alligators are amazing! If I were a gator there are some things I would want all Homo sapiens to know...
I survived the Age of Dinosaurs and I have relatives from 200 million years ago.
Alligators, crocodiles, birds, and dinosaurs all evolved from Archosaurs. I am similar to birds in many ways. I have a muscular gizzard, an elongated ear canal, and complete separation of the ventricles in my heart. Although I do not fly, I build nests out of plant materials, lay eggs, care for my young, and use my voice to communicate.
My name came from el legarto, meaning big lizard. I am the largest reptile in America.
There are only 2 species of alligators, American alligators and Chinese alligators. There are 21 other species in the family Crocodylidae. Only the American alligator and the rare American crocodile occur in America.
My growth rate varies depending on my sex, and my habitat. Male gators grow faster and can grow to 13 feet in length and weigh 500 plus pounds. Females grow to about 9 feet and 200 plus pounds. The largest gator recorded was taken from Marsh Island, Louisiana and was 19 feet 2 inches!
I can live about as long as a human. An average of 70 years, but up to 100 years.
I am cold-blooded. The temperature of my environment regulates my body temperature. I bask in the sun to get warmth. When I am too warm I lay with my mouth open to release extra heat because I cannot sweat as you do. If I am really hot I move to the shade or get in the water.
I must be warm and active to digest food. During the winter months my body rates slow down and I cannot hunt or eat so I enter my underground hole and remain dormant until warm temperatures return.
Louisiana has the highest alligator population in the U.S., approaching 2 million. I can be found in ponds, lakes, canals, rivers, swamps, and bayous, but my greatest numbers occur in coastal marshes.
I am like an armored battleship! I have bony plates in my top scales called, scutes. My belly scales are not bony and they are sometimes made into leather. My muscular tail is almost as long as my body and it helps me swim and is a powerful weapon. My legs are short but they help me crawl on land.
I have no lips so my mouth leaks! My throat has a special flap that closes when I am underwater. My tongue is stuck to the bottom of my mouth (try chewing like that!) so I cannot chew. I chomp my prey with my powerful jaws and conical teeth, and then I raise my head and let gravity help me swallow it whole!
I have between 74 and 80 teeth which grow back when lost or broken.
I will eat just about anything, including my own kind! Generally what I eat depends on my size and habitat. Insects, crawfish, crabs, fish, snakes, frogs, birds, nutria, even deer and wild pigs! I love them all! I stop eating in cooler months and I can go for up to a year without food. I am very energy efficient!
I have a transparent third eyelid that works like underwater goggles. My nostrils close and I can slow my heart rate down and stay underwater for more than an hour.
I hunt by sight and my eyes see well in dim light. My pupils are like long slits.
When I am grown, my only natural enemy is a human. I am hunted for my meat and hide in the wild during the month of September. I am also raised on farms because of my valuable parts. But, farmers must return a percentage of their small gators back to the wild and you must have a tag for each gator that you kill so my numbers will remain strong!
What did I tell you? Lots to learn, right? I have not even started to tell you about hatchling gators and how boy or girl gators are determined! That will have to be another story. Sue just brought me a bone to chew!
ANNIE the ALLIGATOR EXPERT