The American alligator is also known as the common alligator and is larger than any other species in the Alligator family. If you live in Florida, you just call it the gator. Three states Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi all have it as their official state reptile. An adult male can measure between 11.2 and 15.1 feet. The females are smaller measuring between 8.5 to 9.8 feet. American alligators inhabit freshwater marshes and cypress swamps from Texas to North Carolina. It is less tolerant of saltwater but more tolerant of cooler climates. The American crocodile, on the other hand, is the direct opposite and found only in tropical climates.
Being an opportunist when it comes to their diet, they will prey on a wide variety of animals that include invertebrates, fish, birds, turtles, snakes, amphibians, and mammals. Their hatchlings mostly feed on invertebrates such as insects, insect larvae, snails, spiders, and worms. In central Florida lakes, their diet is dominated by catfish, shad, bass, and sunfish. It is not uncommon for them to also spend considerable time hunting on land. They will travel up to 170 feet from water and ambush terrestrial animals on trial sides and road shoulders. Terrestrial hunting usually occurs on nights with warm temperatures.
The American alligator teeth are designed to grip prey, not to rip or chew flesh. Instead, they depend on their gizzard to masticate their food. It is capable of biting through a turtle’s shell or a moderately sized mammal bone. There have been four incidents documented that indicate they have killed bonnetheads, lemon sharks, Atlantic stingrays, and nurse sharks. In turn, sharks are also known to prey on the alligators and it is more common than thought.
When fish and smaller pray levels go down, the American alligator will prey on large mammals such as deer. While it is rare, American alligators have been observed killing and eating bobcats. This has had little effect on bobcat populations.
With the recent establishment of Burmese pythons in Everglades National Park, the American alligator may be a contributing factor in keeping the python population low. There have been events of Burmese pythons on young alligators, but with no negative effect on the overall American alligator population.
Both hunting and habitat severely impacted the American alligator populations throughout their range. In 1967, they were listed as an endangered species, due to the fact it was believed they were in danger of becoming extinct. Later they were protected under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. While being under the ESA, they were allowed to recuperate and in 1987, they were removed from the endangered species list.
With humans building houses in low-lying areas or fishing and hunting near water, incidents of intrusion on human life have increased. Since 1948, there have been 257 document attacks on humans in Florida. Twenty-three of those attacks have resulted in death. Between 1970 and 1990, nine fatal attacks occurred, and between 2001 and 2007 there were 12.