American Alligator at Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida.

Meet the Amazing Alligator



Introduction  |  Taxonomy, Phylogeny & Etymology  |  Distribution & Population  |  Ecology

Anatomy & Physiology  |  Diet & Digestion  |  Thermoregulation  |  Reproduction  |  Neonate Care  |  Ethology

Survival  |  Human Conflict  |  Cultural & Commercial Impact  |  Conservation


Prime Observation Locations  |Bibliography  |  Filmography  |  Suggested Publications  |  References



An alli gator afloat in water reflecting the gold of a sunset.AMERICAN ALLIGATOR

Alligator mississippiensis


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Superorder: Crocodylomorpha

Order: Crocodilia

Family: Alligatoridae

Genus: Alligator


(Image: istockphoto/LarryLynch)



3. Distribution & Population


NATURAL RANGE. The alligator may be found throughout the southeastern United States, from the Florida keys in the southeast to the North Carolina/Virginia border to the northeast, over to the southeastern 'corner' of Oklahoma, down to Map of the alligator's natural range.southern reach of Texas. Its range consists of most of the area in between those points, such as in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Arkansas, a total area, from south to north, of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones.


In the map at left, the alligator's natural range is represented in the darkened area, with possible areas of exception explained in the paragraph below.

(Image adapted from the original by the U.S. Geological Survey.)


Laura Brandt of USFWS.


HOW MANY? The number of alligators in the wild is practically impossible to know, so biologists estimate their numbers, which is a tricky business. Scientists use surveys to factor into their computations, such as nest counts or nighttime eye-shine counts. Nighttime is when alligators are more active and mobile, mostly in hunting, making them easier to find and account for.


In this photograph, Laura Brandt of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducts an alligator count from atop an airboat at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Florida.



Table of alligator populations by state.



A group of alligators afloat on Lake Hancock.

How many alligators are there in a lake? In this photograph taken at Lake Hancock in Polk County, Florida, there are at least eight alligators seen at the surface. This lake is relatively large at 4,573 acres2/ 18.51 km2. This author observed similar group concentrations for nearly 500 ft/152m of lake perimeter, evidencing a large population of gators here. Note their respect for "personal space".



'NATURAL' DISPERSAL. The alligator traverses its range in water, where it feels most secure, but it will also travel on foot, whether in search of a mate or more suitable habitat. Means of aquatic conveyance include rivers, canals, streams, and natural and man-made culverts (tunnels). The artifical culverts, in the form of large buried pipes, allow alligators (and other willdlife) to travel underneath roads; the culverts may serve to connect various waterways over a large expanse. The alligator's use of these watery pathways is the main reason the alligator is seldom seen traveling on dry land.


Artificial culverts are seen protruding form a road.












This pair of metal culverts provides easy cross-access underneath a road in central Florida. Many forms of wildlife are able to safely pass underneath roads. Alligators can move in long distances by taking advantage of these.



'UNNATURAL' DISPERSAL. Individual alligators are found in spots well outside of the natural range, as regular media reports attest to. These animals are released or have escaped from captivity as "pets." In their natural range, alligators are able to adapt to the cold and even to ice-capped water. But those former captives loose in the harsher, northerly ranges will quickly perish when the seasons turn cold, so colonizing is practically impossible. (Learn more about those imperiled reptiles, here),


In reported cases involving south Texas and southeastern Oklahoma, captives were released and these groups have thrived in their respective areas at the edges of the species' historic natural range. Biologists have observed slight differences of hide between alligators in the eastern and western ranges.



Alligator range map. 

This map illustration (published ca. 2009), adapted from the one by the U.S. Geological Survey, shows points scattered around the United States (colored in burgundy) where alligators have been found outside their natural range, most or all of which escaped or were released from captivity.

(Image Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)


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