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American Alligator

The American Alligator is a common sight in the southern USA. Female alligators are usually 8 feet long; males are bigger at about 11 feet in length. Males also weigh more: a large male alligator can weigh as much as 1,000 pounds! But most are between 400 and 500 pounds. Alligators have a long flat tail and an 'armored' body. The scales on their backs are bony plates called scutes. These are very strong and protect the animal against any attackers. Alligators are generally blackish in color, but the belly is often pale yellow or even whiteish. They have 4 short legs with 5 toes on the front feet and 4 toes on the back. Alligators can breathe while their body is underwater because of their unique snout: it curls upward so that the nostrils are above water while the body is below!

American alligators can be found in the southeastern USA from South Carolina through the Gulf of Mexico and into the Texas area. They like freshwater rivers and slow-moving streams. Sometimes alligators will be seen in swamps or marshes. They are meat-eaters with very strong teeth that can rip apart any prey. An alligator has anywhere from 75 to 80 teeth at a time! Generally alligators eat fish, birds, frogs, and any mammals that come to the water's edge to drink. If the prey is small enough it will be swallowed whole.

Most alligators are ready to mate by the time they are 10 or 12 years old. Males will roar to attract females and show their strength. In April and May, alligators move to shallow waters to mate. The female then builds a nest of branches, leaves, and twigs. By early July she can lay up to 90 eggs, which she then covers with more plants. The nest must be kept warm because the temperature will determine the gender of the young: the warmer the nest, the more males will hatch. After about 1 month the young alligators make chirping noises that alert the female that it is time to hatch. For the next 3 or 4 years the mother will protect and guard her young. Young alligators often get eaten by other animals, but if they survive they can live to be 60 years old.

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