The Different Types of Alligators

Updated on May 13, 2018
melbel profile image

Melanie has a BS in Physical Science from Purdue Northwest and has an interest in computational 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 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.)

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)
  • 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

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    • profile image

      Casper 2 weeks ago

      We always have a gator in our South Carolina lagoon who suns in our yard. All of a sudden a new guy has appeared. Its coloration is different...has very distinct light-colored stripes on its body. Wonder who he/she is?

    • profile image

      diogenes 13 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.

      Bob

    • profile image

      ;} 13 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 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.

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