American Alligator

American Alligator


As cold-blooded animals, alligators must change locations to adjust their body temperature. The large reptiles frequently bask on shore in the sun to warm up. When they get too hot, they gape to release heat through their mouths, showing off their pointy teeth. To cool down, alligators move to shady areas or swim. They are most active at night.


Alligators eat mostly fish, turtles, and snakes, but do consume other animals. These large reptiles are ambush predators and stealthy swimmers, able to avoid making ripples in the water as the sneak toward their prey. Also, by changing the amount of air in their lungs, alligators can control the depth at which they float. They wait motionless underwater for an animal to venture close, lunge forward to seize the prey, and drag it into the water. Crocodilian teeth are shaped for grasping only. If an alligator wants to tear food into chunks, it must bite tight and then roll around in circles until smaller pieces break off.

Life Cycle

With mounds of vegetation, a female alligator makes a nest for its eggs, which can number up to 50. She then covers them with dirt and more vegetation and remains close by. The sun and rotting plants provide heat for the eggs. Within 3 months, if the eggs remain at temperatures below 90˚F when incubating, most of the hatchlings will be female. If temperatures reach above 92˚F, more males are produced. Just before hatching, baby alligators grunt from within their shells. This prompts their mother to remove the nest covering for the hatchlings to emerge. The mother then carries the black and yellow-striped babies in her mouth into the water. Those that survive will stay with their mother for about two years. Alligators grow throughout their lives and measure about 6 feet long by 5-years-old. After that point, they grow more slowly. They can live about 50 years.

Some of My Neighbors

Rattlesnakes, red-eared sliders, herons

Population Status & Threats

Although the American alligator is considered a species of least concern, its habitat is shrinking, especially from the draining of wetlands. For instance, many alligators in Florida have become nuisances within the small ponds on golf courses. The species was once endangered due to extensive hunting for its skin, but since the 1960s, strict regulations and conservation efforts have helped their numbers to rebound.

WCS Conservation Efforts

WCS has worked to save the American alligator’s cousin, the endangered Chinese alligator, which has been virtually eliminated from its native habitat. Only a few dozen remain in the wild. Alligators raised at the Bronx Zoo have been reintroduced into a wetlands reserve near the mouth of the Yangtze River. WCS conservationists worked with students from East China Normal University to monitor the reintroduced alligators through radio-telemetry.