An alligator is a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. There are two extant alligator species: the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis).
The name alligator is an anglicized form of el lagarto, the Spanish term for “lizard”, which early Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida called the alligator.
Alligators have a variety of successful adaptations to their ecological niche that have allowed these reptiles to remain almost unchanged for 200 million years.
The alligator is notorious for its bone crushing bites. In addition, the alligator has been described as a “living fossil”, having been extant for 200 million years, beginning in the Mesozoic Era.A large adult American alligator’s weight and length is 800 pounds (360 kg) and 13 feet (4.0 m) long, but can grow to 14.5 feet (4.4 m) long and weigh over 1,000 pounds (450 kg). According to the Everglades National Park website, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches (5.31 m), although according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission web site the Florida state record for length is a 14 feet 5/8 inches (4.28 m) male from Lake Monroe in Seminole County. The largest specimen ever recorded was found in Louisiana and measured 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 m). The Chinese alligator is smaller, rarely exceeding 7 feet (2.1 m) in length. Alligators have an average of 75 teeth.
The average lifespan for an alligator is 50 years. A specimen named Muja has resided in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia since 1937, making it at least 73 years old. Another specimen, ?abul?tis, in Riga Zoo, Latvia died in 2007 being more than 75 years old.
What is the Difference Between a Crocodile and an Alligator?
The first difference between a crocodile and an alligator is that they are from different families of crocodilians. Crocodiles are from the crocodylidae family, while alligators and caiman are from the alligatoridae family.
In terms of physical differences the easiest way to tell the difference between the two is that a crocodile has a very long, narrow, V-shaped snout, while the alligator’s snout is wider and U-shaped. Because of the wide snout of the alligator it packs more crushing power to eat prey like turtles that constitute part of its diet. The narrow crocodile snout, although still very powerful, is not really suited for prey like turtles but is very versatile for fish and mammals.
Another physical difference between the crocodile and the alligator is that the crocodile’s upper and lower jaws are nearly the same width, so the teeth are exposed all along the jaw line in an interlocking pattern, even when the mouth is closed. They also have an enormous 4th tooth on the lower jaw that is accommodated by depressions in the upper jaw just behind the nostrils.
An alligator, on the other hand, has a wider upper jaw, so when its mouth is closed the teeth in the lower jaw fit into sockets of the upper jaw, hidden from view. Only the teeth of the upper jaw are exposed along the lower jaw line. Even the enormous 4th tooth on the bottom jaw, which is exposed in a crocodile, is hidden in the alligator.
Another physical difference is that crocodiles have a lighter olive brown coloration, while alligators appear blackish. Alligators also prefer freshwater while crocodiles like brackish water and sometimes even ocean.
Speaking to this difference, while crocodiles and alligators both have glands on their tongues, crocodiles still use these glands to excrete excess salt. Alligators seem to have lost this ability, making their tolerance for salt water comparatively brief. Biologists believe this suggests that the crocodile is less removed from its oceanic ancestry.