American Alligator at Circle B Bar Reserve in Florida.

The Alligator's 'Sibling' in China





A Chinese alligator photographed at Dallas Zoo in Texas.CHINESE


Alligator sinensis


Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Superorder: Crocodylomorpha

Order: Crocodilia

Family: Alligatoridae

Genus: Alligator

(Image: Twelve X. Image reversed. Creative Commons license.)


International: Critically Endangered


This article is intended to serve as a brief summary of this species of  critically endangered crocodilian that inhabits parts of China.*



The Chinese 'sibling' of the American alligator, which might be loosely considered a dwarf version of it, is one of the most endangered crocodilians in the world. There are far more of them in captivity than in the wild, where their number was estimated to be fewer than 130 in 2002. Formerly more widely distributed over the Lower Yangtze River area, it is now entirely or mostly restricted to a small area of a single province. A number of factors, including habitat loss, natural disasters, destruction by humans (hunting and industry encroachment), low reproductivty and fragmented population distribution, contribute to the complex threat to the survival of this species.


Like its American relative, the alligator is a member of the Family Alligatoridae, a group in scientific classification that is distinct from the crocodiles, and it inhabits temperate zone, living in wetlands and ponds, many in close proximity to agriculture, a situation that generates confilct between human and animal.A Chinese alligator at the Cincinnati Zoo.


Unlike the American species, it lives at relatively high northern latitude, and spends much of the year brumating (a kind of reptile hibernation in low temperatures) in complex burrow systems. Similarly, the American alligator brumates in the northerly reaches of its range (i.e. North Carolina) and excavates a burrow for such use. The Chinese reptile becomes active when the warmer temperatures occur, usually starting in May, when it emerges from its burrow nocturnally. Courtship begins in June, and nesting takes place during July and August. Ten to forty eggs may be laid in a mound of vegetation constructed by the mother alligator. Like her North American relative, she will tenaciously guard her nest; the image below depicts such behavior.



The specimen pictured above is found at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio.

(Image: Greg Hume. Image reversed. Creative Commons license.)


A Chinese alligator guards her nest.


A mother alligator floats nearby almost stealthily as sentinel of her progeny, guarding her mound nest at a breeding facility in Anhui Province, China.

(Image: Courtesy of, and 2010 Copyright by, Joe Abene.)


The Chinese alligator body much resembles the American's, an notable exception being that the former reaches a maximum length of 6.6ft/2m, about half that of the latter. Furthermore, it features an array of tiny "specks", alternating light- and dark-colored dots or "splotches", about its hide far more prominently than that of the American. The Chinese version's snout and head also appears more blunt and its hide is rougher, making it undesirable to the leather goods industry.


A photograph of an American (at top) and Chinese alligatro on display together at a zoo.The Chinese alligator has been successfully bred at American facilities in New York and in the natural clime of its American relative, Florida and Louisiana. The Association of Zoos & Aquariums' (AZA's) conservation program has distributed this species thorughout the USA for exhibit and observation at various zoos, such as at the Cincinnati Zoo in Ohio, pictured above.


This vintage photograph is of an American alligator (at top) and a Chinese, on display at a zoo. (Image: Public domain.)


If you wish to learn more, you may enjoy this more detailed species profile, and you may contribute funds to a dedicated conservation program, The Chinese Alligator Fund.










CROCODILE SPECIALIST GROUP. 2017. Crocodilian Species: Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) [cited 30 May 2018].  Gland, Swtizerland: IUCN. Available from: achments/species_descriptions/Chinese%20Alligator.pdf. PDF


JIANG, H. X. 2010. Chinese Alligator Alligator sinensis. Pages 5-9 in Crocodiles. Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Third Edition, S.C. Manolis and C. Stevenson, Eds [cited 31 May 2018]. Crocodile Specialist Group: Darwin. Available from: PDF



* Lnks are provided in this article for informational purposes only; the presence of a link to a website published by another entity does not indicate any formal association of with that entity and should not be construed as such indication.



SUGGESTED ARTICLE CITATION: Dupont, Israel. 2018. The alligator's 'sibling' in China: species summary of the Chinese alligator. [ [insert date cited] ]; June 2018. Available from: http://www.




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