American Alligator

(Alligator mississippiensis)


Animal Info

The Zoo’s three alligators come from the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida and reside at the Zoo for the summer.¬†Adult alligators are blackish in color with a cream underside. The young can be distinguished from adults by the bright yellow stripes on their body, providing them with additional camouflage. This banding fades as the alligator matures. Adults have dark stripes on the tail.

Status in the Wild

International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) status: Least concern. Once on the verge of extinction, the American alligator has made a remarkable recovery. Due to strict conservation measures and extensive research, it is no longer endangered except in scattered areas of its range. However, the American alligator is listed as threatened on the U.S. Endangered Species List because it is very similar in appearance to the American crocodile, which is endangered, and hunters are likely to confuse the two species. Hunting is allowed in some states, but it is heavily controlled. The greatest threat is currently destruction of habitat; this includes water management systems and increased levels of mercury and dioxins in the water.


American alligators are found from the southern Virginia-North Carolina border, along the Atlantic coast to Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico as far west as the Rio Grande in Texas. Alligators are usually found in freshwater, in slow-moving rivers. They are also found in swamps, marshes, and lakes. They can tolerate salt water for only brief periods because they do not have salt glands.


Alligators are carnivorous. Large adults can and will tackle nearly all aquatic and terrestrial prey that comes within range, although mostly this includes fish, turtles, relatively small mammals, birds and reptiles including small alligators.

Did you know?

Alligators are one animal that has changed very little since the prehistoric days.

There have been reports of alligators reaching sixteen to twenty feet in the past but no recent recordings equaling those lengths. Exceptionally large males can reach a weight of nearly half a ton or 1,000 pounds.

An adaptation to overcome the would-be fatal effect of losing their teeth is that they constantly replace lost or worn down teeth. An alligator can go through two to three thousand teeth in a lifetime!

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