Animals

Browse through our pages of animals to learn more about the wonderful things you can experience at the San Francisco Zoo. From the smallest insect to the tallest giraffe, you're sure to find a story that touches and inspires you.

 

American Alligator
Alligator mississippiensis

 

 

Fascinating Facts

  • The American alligator is the official state reptile of three states: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.
  • Although alligators have no vocal cords, males bellow loudly to attract mates and warn off other males by sucking air into their lungs and blowing it out in intermittent, deep-toned roars.
  • The name alligator is the derived from the Spanish el lagarto which means "the lizard".

Physical Characteristics

The American alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. Adult Alligators generally have dark gray or nearly black color. They may at times appear to be lighter based on detritus or algae in the water covering their skin. Juvenile alligators have a striped pattern for camouflage that they lose as they mature. Averaging about 9.5 in in length when newly hatched, alligators reach sexual maturity when they measure about 5–7 ft. Adult male alligators average 11.2 ft in length, while adult females average 8.2 to 9.8 ft. Average adult body weights are reported from 270 to 800 lb (120 to 360 kg), with a few exceptionally large and old males exceeding 14 ft and 1,000 pounds.

Habitat/Diet

American alligators are mostly found in the Southeastern United States, from Great Dismal Swamp in North Carolina south to Everglades National Park in Florida and west to the southern tip of Texas. They are found in the U.S. states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Florida and Louisiana currently have the largest population of alligators. Florida has an estimated population of 1 to 1.5 million while Louisiana has an estimated population of 1.5 million.

Alligators live in wetlands and this is the vital habitat that holds the key to their continued long-term survival. Alligators depend on the wetlands, and in some ways the wetlands depend on them. As apex predators, they help control the population of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.

Their diet consists of fish, birds, turtles, snakes, mammals, and amphibians.

Social Behavior

Large male alligators are solitary, territorial animals. The largest males and females will defend prime territory. Smaller alligators can often be found in large numbers in close proximity to each other, because smaller alligators have a higher tolerance of other alligators within a similar size class.

During breeding season, the female builds a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot in or near the water.

Status In The Wild

Historically, alligators were depleted from many parts of their range as a result of market hunting and loss of habitat, and 30 years ago many people believed their population would never recover. In 1967, the alligator was listed as an endangered species (under a law that preceded the Endangered Species Act of 1973), meaning it was considered in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.

A combined effort by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms were instrumental in aiding the American alligator's recovery. The Endangered Species Act outlawed alligator hunting, and in 1987 the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species.

Other

You can see our American alligator in the ARC window in the Children's Zoo.