When visiting South Carolina during the first week in March, I had the chance to get reacquainted with a reptile I haven’t seen in awhile, due to not having visited the southeast states (they only place where they live) in 20 years.
The American Alligator inhabits freshwater wetlands, such as marshes and cypress swamps from Texas to North Carolina. Large individuals can be more than 10 feet in total length. Like other reptiles, they warm themselves in the sun on cool days, as these were doing.
These reptiles are apex predators and consume fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. They also play an important role in the ecosystem through the creation of alligator holes, which provide both wet and dry habitats for other creatures.
The American Alligator propels itself through the water with its muscular, flat tail. The skin on the back is armored with embedded bony plates called osteoderms or scutes. Their long snout with upward-facing nostrils at the end lets them breathe while the rest of their body is under water.
Historically, hunting decimated their population, and they were listed as an endangered species by the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Subsequent conservation efforts have allowed their numbers to increase and the species was removed from the list in 1987. It is a rare success story of an endangered animal, not only saved from extinction, but that is now thriving.
American Alligators are long-lived animals whose life spans can exceed 60 years. Alligators and their relatives are the last of the living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs, and their closest modern kin are birds. There is only one other alligator species, the Chinese Alligator.
The American Alligator is the official state reptile of three states: Florida, Louisiana, and Mississippi.