come see the new education alligator

Come meet the newest addition to the Happy Hollow Family at one of our Animal Meet & Greets.

What do they look like?

American alligators are large, powerful reptiles. As adults, females average 8-9 feet while males average 11-12 feet long, half of which is their laterally flattened tail. Their long tail is used for propulsion while swimming as well as for defense. Although American alligators typically weigh 170-800 pounds, large males have been recorded at up to 1,000 pounds. They are dark grey in color with rounded bodies, thick limbs, and broad heads. Juveniles have distinct yellow
bands around their bodies which fade as they grow. They have partially webbed feet to aid in swimming. Their eyes and nostrils are located high on the head so that they can rest or hunt while being submerged in the water.

How do they behave?

As ectotherms, alligators cannot make their own body heat and must bask in the sun to raise their body temperature. Although slow on land, alligators are capable of quickly lunging short distances and are agile swimmers. They have one of the strongest measured bites of any animal, with adults easily able to crush through relatively large bones and turtle shells. Alligators have sharp teeth for catching, tearing, and holding prey, but they do not chew their food. They swallow small stones that remain in their gizzards, aiding in digestion by breaking down food.

What’s on the menu?

Alligators are opportunistic carnivores and their diet is largely determined by what is available. Hatchlings primarily eat invertebrates such as insects, arachnids, mollusks, and worms. As they grow, they start eating fish and eventually larger prey. Adult American alligators are capable of catching larger mammals such as raccoons, opossums, nutrias, and even deer! Alligators are apex predators and are crucial to keeping their ecosystems balanced. At the Zoo, they eat rodents, chicken pieces, and other meat.

How are they born?

Alligators breed in the spring. Males produce a deep bellow to attract a mate. Females build nests made of sticks, leaves, and mud near the water. She will lay 20-50 white eggs, after which she will cover them with more vegetation. The vegetation releases heat as it decomposes, keeping the eggs warm. The temperature at which the eggs are incubated will determine the sex of the embryos. Males will result from higher incubation temperatures while females result
from lower temperatures. The mother will guard the nest for approximately 65 days. The hatchlings emit a high-pitched noise as they emerge from the eggs, signaling to their mother to dig them out of the nest. The female alligator will protect the babies for 5-6 months and may even transport them in her mouth or on her back! Juveniles are preyed upon a variety of predators until they reach maturity. As adults, they have no natural predators.

Alligator or crocodile?

Both alligators and crocodiles are in the order Crocodylia, but are in different families. Alligators primarily live in freshwater wetlands while crocodiles may live in fresh or saltwater habitats. Alligators have broad U-shaped snouts, and their upper jaw is wider than the lower
jaw. Crocodiles have narrower V-shaped snouts with equal-sized jaws, causing many teeth to be visible when their mouths are closed.

What can you do to help?

Thirty years ago, the American alligator was an endangered species at risk of becoming extinct due to hunting and loss of habitat. Through the efforts of the US Fish and Wildlife Service,
state wildlife agencies, and alligator farms, American alligators have made a remarkable recovery. They still need our help by spreading the word about important role they play in their ecosystem and by avoiding products made from alligator hides.

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