American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) - Wiki
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[Photo] An American Alligator in captivity at the Columbus Zoo, Powell, Ohio. Digital photo taken by User:Postdlf, September 16, 2006.
The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is one of the two living species of Alligator, a genus within the family Alligatoridae. The American Alligator is native only to the southeastern United States, where it inhabits wetlands that frequently overlap with human-populated areas. It is larger than the other Alligator species, the Chinese Alligator.
The American Alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. They can weigh as much as 1100 pounds (500 kg). The tail, which accounts for half of the alligator's total length, is primarily used for aquatic propulsion. The tail can also be used as a weapon of defense when an alligator feels threatened. While alligators travel very quickly in water, they are generally slow-moving on land. However, they have the ability to sprint for short distances at speeds of up to 30 miles/hour (48 km/h).
Alligators eat almost anything, but primarily consume fish, birds, turtles, mammals and amphibians. Hatchlings mostly eat invertebrates. Insects and their larvae, snails, spiders and other invertebrates like worms make-up a big portion of a hatchling's diet. They will also eat small fish whenever they can catch one. As they grow, they gradually move onto larger fish, mollusks, frogs and small mammals like rats and mice. Sub adult alligators take a larger variety of prey; ranging from snakes and turtles to birds and moderate sized mammals like raccoons.
Once an alligator reaches adulthood, any animal living in the water or coming to water to drink is potential prey. Adult alligators will eat razorbacks, deer, domestic animals including cattle and pets, and are well known to kill and eat smaller alligators. Larger male alligators have been known to tackle Florida panther and bears, making it the apex predator throughout its distribution.
The stomachs of alligators often contain gastroliths. The function of these stones is still unclear.
Despite the extensiveness of their shared habitat with humans, alligator attacks on humans are comparatively rare. Most alligators fear humans due to hunting; attacks on humans are typically a result of feeding of alligators. Once a human feeds an alligator, it expects food whenever it sees someone.
Today, alligators are found throughout the Southeast, from Merchants Millpond State Park in North Carolina to Texas and north to southeastern Oklahoma. As during the Reptile Age, alligators live in wetlands, and it is this 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 predators at the top of the food chain, they help control the population of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.
The alligator's greatest value to the marsh and the other animals within it are the "gator holes" that many adults create and expand on over a period of years. An alligator uses its mouth and claws to uproot vegetation to clear out a space; then, shoving with its body and slashing with its powerful tail, it wallows out a depression that stays full of water in the wet season and holds water after the rains stop. During the dry season, and particularly during extended droughts, gator holes provide vital water for fish, insects, crustaceans, snakes, turtles, birds, and other animals in addition to the alligator itself.
Sometimes, the alligator may expand its gator hole by digging beneath an overhanging bank to create a hidden den. After tunneling as far as 20 feet (6 m), it enlarges the end, making a chamber with a ceiling high enough above water level to permit breathing. This is not the alligator's nest but merely a way for the reptile to survive the dry season and winters.
The breeding season begins in the spring. Although alligators have no vocal cords, males bellow loudly to attract mates and warn off other males during this time by sucking air into their lungs and blowing it out in intermittent, deep-toned roars.
The female builds a nest of vegetation, sticks, leaves, and mud in a sheltered spot in or near the water. After she lays her 20 to 50 white, goose-egg-sized eggs, she covers them under more vegetation, which, like mulch, heats as it decays, helping to keep the eggs warm. The temperature at which alligator eggs develop determines their sex. Those eggs which are hatched in temperatures ranging from 90???93 °Fahrenheit (32.2???33.8 °C) turn out to be male, while those in temperatures from 82???86 °Fahrenheit (27.7???30 °C) end up being female. Intermediate temperature ranges have proven to yield a mix of both male and females. The female will remain near the nest throughout the 65-day incubation period, protecting the nest from intruders. When the young begin to hatch they emit a high-pitched croaking noise, and the female quickly digs them out.
The young, which are tiny replicas of adult alligators with a series of yellow bands around their bodies, then find their way to water. For several days they continue to live on yolk masses within their bellies.
Alligators reach breeding maturity at about 8 to 13 years of age, at which time they are about 6 to 7 feet (1.8???2.1 m) long. From then on, growth continues at a slower rate. Old males may grow to be 14 feet (4.2 m) long and weigh up to 1,200 pounds (510 kg)during a lifespan of 30 or more years.
Attacks on people and gator safety
Alligators are capable of killing humans, but generally fear humans enough to avoid them as prey, and are far less dangerous than the infamous Nile crocodile and saltwater crocodile. Alligator bites are serious injuries due to the risk of infection. Inadequate treatment or neglect of an alligator bite may result in an infection that causes a need for amputation of a limb. The alligator's tail itself is a fearsome weapon capable of knocking a person down, or worse. Even though they rarely kill, they should be left alone. Humans should never feed them (an illegal practice in Florida) because if an alligator associates people with food, it can become a dangerous problem animal. Alligators are protective parents, and a very young alligator may have a mother nearby who protects her young by attacking anyone or anything that poses a threat. They are best appreciated at a safe distance for the protection of both persons and alligators; handling of them is best left to well-equipped and trained experts.
There were only 9 fatal attacks in the USA throughout the 70's, 80's and 90's, but alligators killed 11 people from 2001 to 2006. In May 2006, alligators killed three Floridans in four days, two of them in the same day. One victim was a jogger whose body was found in a canal on Florida's Atlantic coast; one was snorkeling in a recreation area near Lake George, in the central part of the state; another was found in a canal on the state's Gulf Coast.
When in gator country, it is a safe practice to know which lakes and rivers are inhabited by gators and which are not as it is obviously not wise to swim in such waters. In many areas, signs are posted warning of their presence, but some are not. Evidence of an area being inhabited by gators include alligator slides onshore (these are markers where the belly of the gator has slid down the bank into the water) large piles of muddy sticks and foliage in spring, and of course occasionally seeing the animals themselves. Pet owners should not let their dogs and cats roam too far from home in such areas as these because a hungry gator will take a dog or a cat as a snack if the opportunity presents itself. If one does encounter a hostile one, it is a good idea to watch the tail-it may try to knock you down so it can use its other big weapon, the teeth. Don't panic and don't let it take you into the water, where it will try to drown you. Climb on top of something high up as alligators cannot climb.
Endangered species recovery
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 this unique reptile 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 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, state wildlife agencies in the South, and the creation of large, commercial alligator farms saved these unique animals. The Endangered Species Act prohibited alligator hunting, allowing the species to rebound in numbers in many areas where it had been depleted. As the alligator began to make a comeback, states established alligator population monitoring programs and used this information to ensure alligator numbers continued to increase. In 1987, the Fish and Wildlife Service pronounced the American alligator fully recovered and consequently removed the animal from the list of endangered species. The Fish and Wildlife Service still regulates the legal trade in alligator skins and products made from them.
Although the American alligator is secure, some related animals ??? such as several species of crocodiles and caimans ??? are still in trouble.
Dangers in South Florida
In South Florida, alligators face ambient temperature patterns unlike elsewhere in their range. The consistently high temperatures lead to increased metabolic cost.
Alligators in the Everglades have reduced length to weight ratio, reduced total length, and delayed onset of sexual maturity compared with other parts of their range. The reason for this poor condition is currently suspected to be a combination of low food availability and sustained high temperatures.
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