Mississippi alligators are the most studied reptiles of their squad. These large animals live on the North American continent and represent one of two currently known alligator species (the second is the Chinese alligator). The Mississippi alligator range is located in the southeastern United States, covering primarily the territories of the states of Florida and Louisiana.
These reptiles inhabit swamps, ponds, rivers, lakes, and other freshwater bodies along the Atlantic coast — found south of Virginia and east of the lower Rio Grande, Texas, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, Georgia, North and South Carolina, Oklahoma and southern Arkansas. Mississippi alligators are especially numerous in the swamps of Florida.
The first scientific description of this animal was published in 1802 by the French zoologist Francois-Marie Doden (Francois-Marie Daudin)who assigned the reptiles a binomial name Alligator mississippiensis. For its entire scientific activity, Doden described more than 500 species of birds and reptiles.
The Mississippi alligator is often called the American alligator - American alligators. Other common reptile names include the Florida alligator, the Mississippi crocodile, the Louisiana alligator, and the pike alligator. The last name of the reptile is due to the characteristic shape of the head with a flat oval muzzle resembling the head of a pike.
Mississippi alligators prefer calm waters, avoiding places with a strong current. Experts believe that the dislike of the Mississippi alligators for stormy waters is associated with the shape and structure of the nostrils - they are located low, and this makes breathing difficult when swamped by streams of water. In order not to draw water into the nostrils, these reptiles in fast rivers have to keep their heads at a steep angle, which makes it difficult to swim on the surface and mask during hunting.
Due to the absence of lacrimal glands, these reptiles also avoid appearing in salt waters, unlike many types of real crocodiles that can “cry”, removing salt from the body. However, occasionally Mississippi alligators can be found in the brackish waters of the South Florida mangrove swamps and estuaries.
These reptiles belong to large representatives of the crocodile order - males can grow to a length of 4-4.5 meters (maximum known size - 5.8 m) with a weight of up to 300 kg. There are reports of the capture of individuals weighing up to half a ton, but they do not have documentary evidence. Females are noticeably smaller than males and rarely reach a length of more than 3 meters.
Appearance is characterized by a large head with a long, wide and flattened muzzle, which, as mentioned above, is extremely similar to the head of a pike. The head is markedly separated from the neck. The nostrils are located on the tip of the muzzle, slightly rising above its surface.
The eyes are relatively small, with a gray or silver-gray iris and a vertical slit pupil.
The total number of teeth on the upper and lower jaws is 74-80, while the alligator bite line is one of the features that distinguish these reptiles from real crocodiles - the big fourth tooth of the lower jaw enters the recess of the upper jaw and is covered with a lip, while in crocodiles these the teeth are located on the side and bare with a closed mouth.
On the sides of the body there are four short, strong legs, ending in the bottom of the foot. On the front legs there are five fingers with membranes between them, on the lower legs - four fingers. Thanks to these limbs, the alligator is able (albeit awkwardly) to move on land, swim, defend itself from enemies, and also to manipulate its prey - tear it to pieces, remove stuck pieces of food from its mouth, etc. However, if necessary, the alligator is able to run on their short legs galloping.
Dorsal scutes have a characteristic arrangement and shape - four large scutes in two rows are placed on the occipital region, eight longitudinal rows of scutes are smaller in the middle of the body. Bone plates are placed on the sides. The belly does not have corymbal formations.
The back of the body is crowned by a long and powerful tail, flattened laterally. This body is the rudder and mover of the reptile when swimming, as well as a weapon, thanks to which the alligator is able to deal with large prey. With a tail strike, a predator can easily break bones even of a bull.
The upper torso of adult alligators is painted olive brown or black, and the belly is creamy white. In young individuals, bright yellow stripes are located on the tail.
The absence of a thermoregulatory mechanism of the body left a mark on the behavior of the Mississippi alligators in conditions of cooling or sweltering heat. These reptiles are able to dig holes where they prefer to hide under adverse weather and climate conditions. In the low temperature season, alligators lose their activity, and are even able to hibernate, hiding in a hole or burrowing in swamp mud.
Like most other crocodile, alligators provide invaluable services to muddy ponds, clearing them of dirt, silt and aquatic vegetation. Of course, the role of the orderlies of the reptiles is not disinterested - the cleared places are usually used as a watering hole by various animals, which the predator watches over from ambush.
Heavy and clumsy on land, these reptiles are perfectly adapted for swimming in water, and are capable of lightning throws during hunting.
As befits a predator, the Mississippi alligator feeds on animals that it manages to catch. The diet of these reptiles is based on fish, amphibians and small mammals. The menu often includes various reptiles - snakes, turtles, and even small alligators. Unlike real crocodiles, alligators are ruthless cannibals, on occasion eating "tribesmen."
In famine, these predators are able to eat everything that comes in their way - from carrion to large enough animals, including humans. Mississippi alligators attack people not often - these reptiles are considered less dangerous than combed or Nile crocodiles, however, documented facts are more than enough.
Young ones are content with smaller prey - from insects, mollusks and crustaceans, to medium-sized fish. These reptiles prefer to go hunting in the dark, using ambush tactics.
They reach puberty with a body length of more than 180 cm, at the age of 10 - 12 years. They reproduce by egg laying, while the female builds a nest in which she lays about fifty eggs (the maximum recorded number is 88). Mating games at the Mississippian alligators begin in the spring (April-May), with heating of the water, while the ritual takes place at night. Males are not famous for “swan fidelity” - on its territory one male can cover up to a dozen females. Each of the large males "owns" its own "land" with an area of about 3 square meters. km., where access to other "males" is prohibited under threat of reprisal.
The incubation period for egg maturation is just over 2 months. Hatching alligators, measuring 15-20 cm, begin to make piercing, croaking sounds, and the female comes to their aid, helping to get out of the nest. Newborns relatively long (from several months to two years) grow and develop under the supervision of their mother, then begin an independent predatory life.
It should be noted that the Mississippi alligators are quite “vociferous” animals - adult males can make very loud sounds, reminiscent of the roar of a jet engine. During the mating season, alligator assemblies literally shake their lands with deafening peals.
An adult alligator has virtually no natural enemies. Young individuals have to avoid the danger of being eaten or killed by numerous predators - large swamp birds, raccoons, lynxes, and, as noted above, even large tribesmen. Under favorable conditions, Mississippi alligators can live long enough - more than fifty years (there are reports of cases of living in captivity until almost 70 years of age).
The state of the populations of these animals by area is currently stable, therefore, the species Alligator mississippiensis assigned environmental status LC - causing the least concern.
Mississippi Alligator Appearance
The body length of adult Mississippian alligators ranges from 4 to 4.5 meters, individuals rarely exceed 5 meters in length.
However, these dimensions relate to males, while females do not exceed 3 meters. The average mass of the Mississippi alligator is 200-300 kilograms.
The muzzle of this alligator is wide, flat and rather long. It is noteworthy that in alligators living in captivity, the muzzle is wider in comparison with wild individuals, which is associated with the peculiarities of nutrition. The nostrils are located on the tip of the muzzle, so the alligator can breathe when the whole body is under water.
Mississippian alligators can be of 2 types: short and wide and thin and long, such structural features depend on the characteristics of nutrition and climate.
These reptiles have muscular flat tails. In the middle of the body there are 8 longitudinal rows of dorsal scutes. There are 4 shields on the back of the head. Bone plates pass along the sides of the body.
Mississippi Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).
The limbs are short, on the front legs there are 5 fingers, and on the hind legs - 4. Between the fingers on the front legs there are swimming membranes. There are 74-80 teeth in the mouth. When the mouth is closed, the edges of the upper jaw are closed by the lower teeth, which are included in special recesses located in the upper jaw. Such a structure of the jaw is characteristic only for alligators, but for crocodiles and gavials it is not peculiar, their teeth enter the grooves located outside the upper jaw.
The general color of the upper body is dull green, and the abdomen is light yellow. In alligators of the western population, isolated from the eastern, the jaw is surrounded by white lines, and the color of the tail and body is lighter.
Young individuals are completely similar to adult pike alligators, but on the black body they have intersecting bright yellow stripes, which provides them with a good disguise. Over time, the stripes fade and become olive brown or black, and the skin around the mouth remains creamy white. Eyes of green, olive or other colors.
Although the alligator has characteristically short paws, it is still capable of holding the victim in rapid motion.
Pike Alligator Lifestyle
The life expectancy of the Mississippi alligators is quite large: it was recorded that one individual lived 66 years. The alligator got to the zoo in South Australia in 1914, when he was 2 years old, and survived until 1978. But there is evidence that pike alligators in captivity can live 85 years.
Mississippian alligators inhabit various habitats where there is fresh water, while they prefer the slow flow. They live in swamps, lakes, ponds, rivers. In salt water, they are not able to live long, but for some time they can live in the mangrove swamps of South Florida. Often they are found next to human housing.
Pike alligators communicate with each other with a voice: babies make croaking sounds, and mature individuals growl loudly during the breeding season. Those who heard the alligator's voice say that it resembles a distant explosion or thunder, and when all alligators start their “songs”, the swamp literally begins to shake.
The nostrils on the tip of the muzzle are positioned in such a way that they allow the sharp-tooted alligator to breathe when the rest of the head is completely submerged under water.
Newborn alligators and young animals are attacked by large swampy birds, lynxes, raccoons, as well as adult reptiles; for males, cannibalism is common. With the help of a muzzle and a strong tail, alligators dig holes on the shore that look like interconnected tunnels about 36 meters long. These tunnels end with a camera. The hole is filled with mud, when it and the pond dry out during the wet period, the alligator goes in search of a new fresh pond. In burrows, alligators hide during danger and hibernate in them. Often, old males live in the same holes year after year.
In general, Mississippi alligators prefer to live in one place, they are actively settled only at the age of 2 years. Females live in small areas, and the territory of the feeding zone of males can exceed 20 hectares. The territories of males and females overlap.
Hunting pike alligators and their diet
These are predators, eating mainly fish, but on occasion they attack, like other crocodiles, other animals. Adults attack almost any terrestrial and aquatic creature. The basis of the diet of adult pike alligators are snakes, turtles, fish, birds, small mammals and small relatives. If there is human housing nearby, then alligators can attack small pets.
Young alligators eat aquatic insects, crustaceans, frogs, and small fish; over time, their diet becomes more diverse.
For people, they do not pose a big threat, but if you provoke a reptile, then it can attack. In places where people feed alligators, they are most dangerous, since they chase a person to get food from him. If the alligator is hungry, and food is not enough, then he does not neglect carrion.
The hunting behavior of the Mississippi alligators depends on the water temperature: at a temperature of less than 20-23 degrees, their activity decreases and their appetite decreases sharply. The optimum temperature for them is 32-35 degrees, and a temperature of more than 38 degrees is destructive for them.
The alligator drowns a large victim, and after killing it breaks it to pieces. During the hunt, they show incredible patience: putting only eyes and nostrils out of the water, they wait hours for their victims. When the alligator sinks, its nostrils are tightly closed by hermetic folds of skin, while blood circulation stops throughout the body. Most often, during the first 20 blinks, the alligator spends half of its oxygen supply, and spends the rest in the next 100 minutes.
Alligators, in comparison with other predators, have the strongest bite, with the help of their powerful jaws they are able to bite the tortoise shell.
Adult pike alligators mainly hunt in water. They swallow their victims whole.
Reproduction of pike alligators
The breeding season for pike alligators falls on April-May. Females are ready to breed in the 6th year of life, when they grow to 1.8 meters in length, males begin to breed no earlier than 10-12 years, when they reach 3.1 meters in length.
In the mating season, males circle in their areas, shaking their heads and blowing waves in the water, at the same time emitting a loud roar and leaving smell marks from the musk glands. When the female makes a roar, the male goes to meet her. During mating rituals, reptiles scratch each other's backs or clutch their jaws. They mate at night.
In females and males of the Mississippi alligator, the back is covered with “armored” bone shields.
Preparing to lay eggs, the female makes a nest, most often this happens at the beginning of summer, when it is damp and warm. Often, nests are built annually in some places. Sometimes a female digs a nest and for some reason leaves it, then another female takes it with pleasure.
The female lays from 20 to 60 eggs, most often in the clutch there are 40-45 eggs, but their maximum number reaches 88 pieces.Nests are mounds rising above the water, if the nest is flooded, the eggs will die within 12 hours.
Throughout the incubation period, which lasts 65 days, the female Mississippi alligator guards the clutch. She is most of the time near the nest, moving away from it by a maximum of 150 meters.
In late August, small pike alligators begin to squeak, which attracts the female, she digs up hard clay and the babies get out, if the mother does not have time to dig out the babies, they will die, because they themselves can not get out. She transfers the babies to their mouths, 8-10 individuals at once, to a pre-selected reservoir. In the water, she unclenches her jaw and shakes her head so that the cubs get out.
If their habitat dries up, alligators move to another place, sometimes using swimming pools as a refuge.
A caring mother stays near the babies for about 2 months, protecting them from enemies. Newborn alligators are kept in small groups, while cubs from different females can come together.
Young growth remains near the hatching place for about 2 years. Throughout the first year of life, the female quickly responds to the alarming signals of her brood and rushes to their aid. Despite maternal custody, about 80% of young alligators die. Sometimes 3 generations of the same female can live in one pond.
Pike alligators and people
At 2 years of life, the body length of the Mississippi alligators reaches 2 meters, from that moment on, almost no one is able to threaten them, except for a person. In connection with the mass extermination of pike alligators, the number of species was greatly reduced, for example, in Louisiana, about half a million Mississippi alligators were destroyed in 17 years.
Alligators clear the bottom of small reservoirs of algae and dirt, prevent them from overgrowing with silt, creating places for watering for other animals.
Pike alligators are hunted for their skin, which is of very high value. Today in California and Arkansas these reptiles are grown on special crocodile farms. They are also bred in Florida, where alligators serve as an attraction for tourists who feed predators. The largest alligator population is concentrated in Florida, and even 5 reptile attacks on people who ended in death were recorded.
Currently, the population of the Mississippi alligators is stable, it has more than a million individuals. They are currently excluded from the Red Book.
If you find an error, please select a piece of text and press Ctrl + Enter.
In the jaws of the Mississippian alligator, you can count from 74 to 80 teeth, which are periodically replaced by new ones. Thus, in all life from an alligator grows from two to three thousand teeth.
Small alligators are born from eggs. Females build not very large - up to 2 m in diameter - a nest of all kinds of plant debris, where they lay their eggs. In one clutch there are up to 50 eggs. Interestingly, if the temperature in the nest exceeds 34 ° C, then only males will develop from the embryos, if the temperature drops below 30 ° C, then exclusively females will be born. Adult females carefully guard the clutch, and then the little crocodiles.
Young alligators prefer to stay together near the nests in which they were born - so it is easier for them to defend themselves from predators. However, with age, they become less and less dependent on each other, and in the end the animals begin to live alone.
True, during a drought, when there are not so many fresh water reservoirs in the district, alligators can again join in groups. During such a forced neighborhood, they prefer not to conflict and simply ignore each other.
Alligators hunt mainly at night, feed on small mammals, waterfowl, turtles, snakes and fish. Alligators swallow small prey as a whole, but if they come across large prey, they try to drag it under the water and start a meal only when the victim drowns and stops resisting. Alligators look very menacing, but they attack people only as a last resort. Usually, alligators dig on the shore of the cave, where they later hide, or they can simply dig into the mud, which on the shore of any reservoir is visible and invisible. So they are saved from the cold. Alligators clean ponds of sludge and dirt.
In the cold season, alligators hibernate
The Mississippi alligator (lat.Alligator mississippiensis) is common in the southeastern states of the United States Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Here, nature itself created paradise conditions for the habitat of this reptile.
More than anything, Mississippi crocodiles value a warm climate and high humidity. They feel particularly comfortable in the endless peat bogs densely overgrown with reeds, as well as in the swamps on the banks of rivers and lakes.
The Americans strenuously destroyed alligators mainly for the sake of their valuable skins, and by 1950 the species was in danger of total extinction. The US government has taken reptiles under protection and by now their population has almost completely recovered.
To obtain crocodile skins, alligators are grown on special crocodile farms, and the Everglades National Park is created in the freshwater mangrove zone of Florida, in which these amazing and graceful reptiles are now completely safe.
Mississippian alligators prefer to live in groups dominated by a strict hierarchy. They spend most of their time in the water, crawling out to land only to warm themselves or sleep.
On land, this crocodile is clumsy and unable to keep up with the prey, but in the water it becomes a deft predator with instant reaction and great speed.
Often reptiles move slowly along the reed beds, spreading stubborn stalks with a massive head.
In places where there are seasonal differences in water levels, they demonstrate the wonders of engineering, digging real ponds in the mud and vigilantly watching that they do not dry out. In the construction of ponds, they skillfully use hind legs and a powerful tail.
Often, such ponds are connected by a rather complex system of underground tunnels, which indicates the intellectual abilities of alligators. In the tunnels they find the desired coolness during the summer heat and bask in the winter.
In a dug pond, a toothy predator hides for hours at the bottom until a thirsty prey appears nearby. When it approaches a fairly close distance, a lightning-fast jump follows, and strong jaws tightly dig into the helpless body of the prey.
Adult alligators feed on wild pigs, raccoons, waterfowl, muskrats, turtles and snakes. They swallow small animals at once, and larger ones are first drowned in water and then torn into large pieces under water and eaten in parts.
In drought, alligators are content with small fish, which are "grown" in their own pond, as well as a variety of carrion.
In winter, the ponds where they live are sometimes covered with ice. Adults pierce a hole in the ice and breathe through it. Sometimes their muzzles freeze to ice, but open nostrils allow reptiles to breathe and wait for the thaw.
In the spring during the mating season, males, as well as representatives of their related species of Chinese alligators (Alligator sinensis), carefully guard their territory from competitors and periodically roar loudly, indicating their property rights. Between them often fierce fights break out.
Preparing to lay eggs, the female builds a nest within 2-3 days. First of all, she carefully tramples a plot of about 3 square meters, then builds on it a small mound of silt and plant fragments, which she brings in her mouth.
Having made a deepening in the knoll, it lays about 20-70 eggs in it and masks the laying with plants. The required temperature for 60-65 days for a successful incubation is maintained due to the heat generated from decaying plants.
In August, shortly before hatching, young crocodiles plaintively call on their mother with peculiar croaking sounds.
The female breaks the masonry and frisky newborns immediately rush to the water.
Cubs have characteristic yellow stripes on a black background. A caring mother carefully transfers part of the offspring to the water in her mouth. Young alligators with a length of about 20 cm have an enviable appetite and are happy to eat everyone who comes in their way, of course, so far small in size. The basis of their diet is tadpoles, frogs, insects and crabs.
By the end of the first year of life, juveniles grow to 45 cm. Females guard their offspring for several months, and sometimes several years. These crocodiles reach puberty at the age of 6-10 years.
The length of adult animals reaches 3-6 m, and weight 200-225 kg. The upper part of the body is painted in a dark dull green color, the belly is light yellow.
The head is wide and heavy, big eyes are set on the sides, wide nostrils are located on the tip of the muzzle. The wide short mouth is equipped with strong sharp teeth.
Short forelimbs end with five fingers. On the hind limbs, four fingers are interconnected by swimming membranes. From the hind legs to the middle of the tail, two low ridges stretch, which merge into one high ridge. The tail is very massive, covered with horny shields and flattened laterally.
Mississippian alligators live in natural conditions for about 50 years.