American Alligator

Animal Profile

Scientific Name Alligator mississippiensis
Class Reptiles
Length Up to 15 feet (4.6 meters)
Weight up to 1,000 pounds (454 kilograms)
Life span 30 to 60 years
Number of eggs 10 to 50 at a time
Size at hatching about 2 ounces (56 grams)
Age of maturity 4 to 7 years
Conservation status Stable

A Meaty Diet
Gators are carnivorous, dining on large aquatic or terrestrial prey that they capture. Sometimes they’ll also eat carrion (dead animals) if available. Smaller gators eat small fish and insects. The zoo menu includes rats, chicken, and other small animals.

What Strong Jaws They Have!
Alligators can jump out of the water’s edge up to five feet to snatch a meal. When capturing food, the gator’s powerful jaws clamp down on the prey. Then the gator drags the prey into the water and rapidly barrel-rolls under the water to drown it.

A Weakness? Not so fast…
While the alligator’s jaws can snap shut with incredible force, they possess few muscles to open the mouth. That is why the alligator’s mouth can be easily held closed to treat or relocate an animal safely. However, while the gator’s mouth is secured, its thrashing tail becomes a much more dangerous weapon.

A conservation success story
Alligators were once endangered in the United States. But strong laws and careful management brought this species back from the brink of extinction. The population of alligators is now stable.