American Alligator

Southeastern United States
Swamps, marshes, lakes, and slow-moving rivers
Fish, turtles, mammals, and birds
Up to 15 feet long
When they hatch from their eggs, alligators are 10 inches long and black with yellow stripes and splotches.
The name "alligator" comes from the Spanish el legarto, meaning "the lizard."


Tails, They Win!


Look, in the water: Is that a floating log or an alligator? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because the color of an alligator's bumpy skin is really good camouflageThe color or pattern of an animal's covering that is similar to the animal's surroundings, and therefore helps hide it. May also be related to smell, as in lions rolling in elephant dung to camouflage their scent., especially when it is resting. But if it needs to, an alligator can swim up to 20 miles per hour and run on land as fast as 11 miles per hour for short distances!


An alligator sweeps its long, thick tail back and forth to swim. On land, alligators often use their heavy tail to make wide, shallow holes called gator pits. When it rains, the pits fill with water and make a second home for the alligator. Other animals may use the pits as a water hole, but they have to be careful of the alligator!


A female alligator is a very good mother. She pushes together mud, sticks, and plants to make a nest. After she lays 20 to 50 eggs, she covers them with more plants, mud, and sticks. Most female reptiles lay their eggs and leave, but not alligators. The female stays near the nest to protect it from egg-eating predators. When the babies hatch, she helps them dig out; sometimes she even puts an egg in her mouth to gently help break the shell. The baby alligators can crawl and catch their own food, but they stay with their mother for up to two years. During that time, the female protects her young from animals that might eat them, including other alligators!