Alligators are a source of fear and fascination the world over. The word “alligator” comes from the Spanish el legarto, which means, quite simply, “the lizard.” Despite being frequently confused with crocodiles, there are only two species of alligator: the American alligator in the United States and the smaller Alligator sinensis, which makes its home in the People’s Republic of China. With a lifespan of approximately 50 years in the wild, these long-lived creatures have a longevity uncommon to reptiles. In keeping with that long lifespan, young alligators can often spend a great deal of time alongside their mothers. Though many young alligators typically remain near their mothers for several months, that time may sometimes stretch for up to two to three years.
Commonly making their home around permanent bodies of water such as swamps and rivers, alligators are frequently mistaken for floating logs. A keen eye can spot them, though, from a boat or a shoreline.
The American Alligator
The American alligator (alligator mississippiensis) can be found in the southeastern US. Known for its distinctive yellow and black banding in its youth, the American alligator will eventually settle into a dull brownish color as it reaches maturity. The size of the average adult is typically between 6-12 feet, which makes them a very poor choice of pet, despite the great numbers of them that have been sold for just that purpose.
The Chinese Alligator
Its counterpart, Alligator sinensis, (more frequently referred to as the Chinese alligator) is typically smaller in length than the American alligator, reaching lengths of up to seven feet. The Chinese alligator, also much less well known than its American counterpart, is most commonly found in the vicinity of the Yangtze river in China. The Chinese alligator is also, regrettably, and endangered species according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Though the dietary choices of the American and Chinese alligator must obviously vary based on their locations in the world, both species typically eat the same types of food. Alligators are known to be opportunistic feeders, which means that they eat what they can catch, when they can catch it. Younger alligators will enjoy a diet of fish and small crustaceans. As they grow older, larger alligators will begin to tackle larger prey such as turtles, mammals, and birds. Whether they make their home in the US or in China, alligators are known to possess a general wariness of humans, and tend to avoid human contact when they can.
Britannica Academic Edition
New World Encyclopedia