A hungry North American Alligator, ( Alligator mississippiensis),opens wide to show his choppers to visitors at the Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary near Naples, Florida.
STATUS: The North American alligator was almost hunted to extinction in the first part of the 20th century. Hunters killed them for their skins, which were used to make belts, purses, wallets, and shoes. Today, the United States government protects this alligator, and while they are still being hunted, all hunting is controlled by permit. Once listed as an endangered species, the North American alligator populations are now increasing in some areas.
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS: Adult males range from seven and 10 feet in length, although rare individuals may reach as much as 19 feet. Females are considerably smaller.
Eyes, ears, and nostrils are located on top of the head, so that the alligator is able to see, hear, and breathe while almost totally submerged in the water. Special adaptations in the alligator’s mouth allow it to open its jaws underwater to catch prey without getting water into its lungs and possibly drowning. These alligators have webbed feet—skin between their toes—that help them in the water. But when swimming, it is the powerful tail that’s used to move through the water, with the legs serving as a rudder. The muscular tail is also a powerful weapon of defense.
HABITAT: The American alligator is found in fresh and slightly salty waters of coastal marshes, swamps, rivers, lakes, and man-made canals in the southeastern United States, from eastern Texas, east through Louisiana, southern Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia, and north into the Carolina coastal regions, and south to the tip of Florida. Their name comes from early Spanish explorers of North America, who called them "el lagarto," Spanish for "the lizard." North American Alligators can live up to 50 years.