American Alligator

an alligator sunbathing in the grass
American alligator at Cattail Marsh in Beaumont, TX

NPS Photo / Soren George-Nichol

Alligator mississippiensis

Alligators are some of the most famous reptiles that can be found in Big Thicket. They are apex predators that are primarily found in freshwater cypress swamps and marshes. American alligators are found in the southeastern United states and live near water sources.

Alligators will eat what ever animals they can get, which includes everything from fish to mammals. They will even eat pets if they get too close! Alligators will sometimes congregate in groups, basking or swimming together. Females raise their young alone, protecting them for the first few years of their life from predators. Young alligators can be eaten by other alligators or by smaller carnivores such as otters or bobcats.

Alligators are currently considered not threatened or endangered, but they are vulnerable to rising temperatures due to climate change because the temperature alligator eggs are incubated at determines if they will be male or female. Alligators also do not have a high tolerance for saltwater so sea level rise and saltwater intrusion could compromise their habitat.

Did You Know?

  • Alligator blood has antibiotic properties which helps prevent infection when they are injured in fights. Understanding what makes their blood able to resist infection more efficiently than human blood could have important implications for helping fight diseases that affect people.
  • There is some evidence that alligators will occasionally eat fruit! Scientists have studied the stomach contents of deceased alligators and found surprising amounts of fruit and vegetation, and think it likely that some of it was consumed intentionally.
  • Alligators are known to be able to use tools! Alligators will use sticks to lure in birds during nesting season when birds are looking for nesting material. When a bird flies down to collect a stick the alligator will snap it up for lunch!
 
 
closeup of an alligator sunbathing by a marsh
While they do live in the Big Thicket, alligators are rarely seen here.

NPS Photo / Soren George-Nichol

 

Dinets, V., Brueggen, J. C., & Brueggen, J. D. (2015). Crocodilians use tools for hunting. Ethology Ecology & Evolution, 27(1), 74-78.

Ferguson, M. W., & Joanen, T. (1982). Temperature of egg incubation determines sex in Alligator mississippiensis. Nature, 296(5860), 850-853.

Machha, V., Spencer, P., & Merchant, M. (2011). Effects of Leukocyte Extract from the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) on Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria. The Open Zoology Journal, 4(1).

Platt, S. G., Elsey, R. M., Liu, H., Rainwater, T. R., Nifong, J. C., Rosenblatt, A. E., ... & Mazzotti, F. J. (2013). Frugivory and seed dispersal by crocodilians: an overlooked form of saurochory?. Journal of Zoology, 291(2), 87-99.

Last updated: February 23, 2021

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