The Different Types of Alligators

Updated on February 18, 2018
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Melanie is a chemistry major and a physics minor at Purdue Northwest with an interest in organic chemistry and research in protein folding.

American Alligator at Everglades National Park in Florida
American Alligator at Everglades National Park in Florida | Source

Alligators are semi-aquatic, sharp-toothed reptiles (order: Crocodylia, family: Alligatoridae, genus: Alligator.) There are two known living species in the Alligator genus, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis.)

There is a large number of extinct species in the Alligatoridae family, but more specifically, the Alligator genus has four known extinct species. These species are the mcgrewi, mefferdi, olseni, and the prenasalis.

These animals are both intriguing and powerful. For example, the American Alligator has the strongest laboratory tested bite of any animal. The bite of this alligator measures over 9,400 newtons!

American Alligator Facts

The American Alligator can weigh a mere 170 pounds all the way up to a hefty 800 pounds! They grow to approximately 13 feet long. These gators are native only to the United States and inhabit Florida, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

While Florida is especially well-known for its alligator population, Louisiana is actually home to a larger population of these lizard giants, with numbers reaching approximately 1.5 - 2 million gators.

Florida holds the title of the only place in the world inhabited by both alligators and crocodiles. Louisiana and Florida have a large number of marshes, rivers, lakes, swamps, all of which are environments perfect for alligators.

Where American Alligators Live

The alligator involved in the recent attack at Disney World was an American Alligator. The range of the American Alligator is depicted in the map above.
The alligator involved in the recent attack at Disney World was an American Alligator. The range of the American Alligator is depicted in the map above.
American Alligator at Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve in South Carolina
American Alligator at Congaree Creek Heritage Preserve in South Carolina | Source

Chinese Alligator Facts

The Chinese Alligator, native only to China, is considerably smaller than its American counterpart. It also differs in that its snout is tapered and turns up at the end.

The Chinese Alligator's teeth aren't as sharp as its American cousin's, but the shape of the teeth allow for better crushing. This allows it to feed on mollusks such as clams and snails (these make up a large part of this alligator's diet.)

Adults reach an average of five feet in length and weigh approximately 85 pounds. Another major difference is that the Chinese Alligator is fully armored (very few crocodilian species have an exoskeleton.)

Chinese Alligator at the Cincinnati Zoo
Chinese Alligator at the Cincinnati Zoo | Source

Are Alligators Endangered?

Despite the Chinese Alligator's protective armor, it is critically endangered with fewer than 200 remaining in the wild.

Their shrinking population is due to a number of factors including inadvertent poisoning (they feed on rats that have been poisoned), human consumption (many parts of a gator's body are used as tonics and cures in traditional Chinese medicine), and encroachment onto their natural habitat (rice paddies have been built in areas previously inhabited by the alligators, considerably shrinking the areas where they're able to live.)

American Alligators were also on the endangered species list at one time. They were first classified as an endangered species 1967 by the US Fish & Wildlife Service. Due to legal protection, the population of gators boomed and they were taken off the list just 20 years later.

Chinese Alligators are currently being bred in zoos and being released in the wild (in their native region of China.) Perhaps this reintroduction, paired with the fact that American Alligators showed large success in increasing the size of their population, shows hope for the future of the Chinese Alligator.

Questions & Answers

    © 2012 Melanie Palen


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      • profile image

        diogenes 10 months ago

        Interesting. There is some contention regarding the most powerful bite on the planet with most people agreeing the huge salt-water croc of Australia having the greatest crushing force measured (I guess it would be a toss-up with a huge Alligator), But there is also general agreement the Great White Shark would probably win - it is yet to be measured.

        The strongest among land mammals is the Polar Bear.


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        ;} 10 months ago

        this is so cool

      • profile image

        BallaWitSwagg 5 years ago

        Gators scare me. I did not know there were so many!

      • Om Paramapoonya profile image

        Om Paramapoonya 5 years ago

        Great info. It was an interesting read. I actually tried deep-fried alligator meat once. Now knowing that they're on the endangered species list, I do feel guilty for eating that alligator po-boy. :(

      • rex michaels profile image

        rex michaels 5 years ago

        Well done, I love articles where I learn new things. Thanks for the great writing.

        R. Michaels

      • Daughter Of Maat profile image

        Melissa Flagg COA OSC 5 years ago from Rural Central Florida

        Oh I love gators. I think they are majestic creatures. Big lizards with attitude! They really are beautiful animals. Powerful, yet in the water they're amazingly graceful. My favorite reptiles. I actually have two in my backyard here in Central Florida!

        Voted up and awesome

      • ktrapp profile image

        Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

        Very informative. I've never heard of the Chinese alligator. It's so much smaller than its American counterpart. Hopefully, they are successful at increasing its population.