The Different Types of Alligators
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
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 will enable 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 significant difference is that the Chinese Alligator is fully armored (very few crocodilian species have an exoskeleton.)
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)
- 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 in 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 tremendous success in increasing the size of their population, shows hope for the future of the Chinese Alligator.
© 2012 Melanie Shebel