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9 Cool Facts about Alligators

Learn nine cool facts about alligators from reptile and amphibian expert Jungle Bob in this Howcast video.


Okay. Alligators, certainly, are one of my favorite reptiles for a number of reasons. First of all, let's distinguish alligators from crocodiles. They're all in the crocodilian family; alligators are a subset of that, as are Gharials, Caimans and true crocodiles, like the Nile crocodile. So, that's one differentiator.

Alligators have a rounded snout on them, where crocs are more pointed. And, really, alligators, I always say, have kind of a smile to their face. Their teeth don't normally protrude like this one does. He's a young alligator. Alligators rotate their teeth like sharks. So, we get two in our lifetime. Alligators, they just keep coming. So, they're constantly falling out at this age and a new tooth is coming behind. Usually, crocodiles' teeth are sticking out up and down and they got kind of a menacing scowl to them. Where gators kind of smile before they eat you, right?

Alligators are an American treasure. There's only two species of alligators on the planet. Our American alligator, that you're familiar with in Florida, gator country. And then there's a smaller species in China, the Chinese alligator, which unfortunately for it, is on the verge of extinction due to predation and habitat loss. People in that area of the world eat alligators. So, there's very, very few of those left.

The rest of the world has crocodiles, Caimans and Gharials. But they're one of my favorite creatures because they're nature's perfect predator. These animals were here 225 million years ago. That's a big number. Dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago and the first one was seen about 175 million years ago. So, what is it about the alligator and the crocodile that kept it alive for so long? And, really, if you look at fossil records, they're pretty much the same. They just got a lot bigger back then.

Well, what makes them perfect predators, is everything about their body shape and everything about their face. They are solid muscle. Alligators got a huge tail that's full of muscle that allows them to move very quickly and stealthily through the water, which is how they attack their prey. They sneak up on it, right?

But if you look at the top of his head. His eyes protrude and his nostrils are at the top. So, oftentimes, when he sneaks up on something at the water's edge, you will just see the top of his head. You'll see his eyes and his nose. And mammals, unfortunately, for 225 million years, haven't figured out what's in the water and what's about to jump out and get them. They're often easy prey for an alligator who is the ultimate in stealth.

They have quick reflexes, they push off with their arms and legs and their tail. They bolt out of the water with mouth agape. You can see the teeth sticking out. But what you can't feel, really, is the jaw strength. This animal has 2,000 pounds per square-inch of jaw strength. It can crush bone. A large alligator, once it latches on to its prey, it has no chance of escaping. Small items, they eat quickly. Larger ones, they pull under the water and drown and they eat it over the course of the next few days, weeks or months, depending on what it is.

In order for them to see properly in the water, alligators have developed a double eyelid system. They have an eyelid that closes their eyes very efficiently to keep dirt out of it and when they sleep. But they also have a clear eyelid that's underneath that one that goes from the back to the front that allows them to go under the water and see clearly. Much like you wear goggles in a chlorinated pool.

So, they'll have that eyelid closed. Their nostrils are like the hatches on a submarine. They close those down. They can go a good 45 minutes under the water and then, there's the business end, right? They sneak up on their prey, they come out of the water with their mouths wide open, look at the sharp teeth, there. Bam. They come down on top of the prey, drag it back into the water and they continue life again, just like they've been doing for 225 million years.

The alligator is an American treasure that almost was hunted to extinction 40 years ago because of this little piece of skin, right here. It's really soft. And that made a wonderful pocketbook, belt, cowboy boot, you name it. And we almost hunted every single one after all those millions of years of being successful.

Luckily, people stepped in and stopped it, but in recent years, it started up again with people in that area of the Southeast saying they need to alligators for commerce. There are even television shows that are popping up showing how they slaughter these alligators ritualistically for profit. I don't really agree with that. I understand people have to make a living, but I don't want to see it in film.

So, we really have to respect animals like this. Understand their role in nature. Understand they were here way before we were and they'll probably be here when we're gone. The American alligator, certainly a U.S. treasure.

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