Name Meaning: The Lizard (from the Spanish El Lagarto)
Common Name: American AlligatorGeologic Era: Pleistocene
Location Found: Florida
Estimated Range: Southeastern United States
Size: Record is 5.31 meters long; average 4.6 meters long for males
Extinction Date: Still Living
Unlike most of the animals in the collection, the American Alligator is alive and well in the United States. This specimen is completely mineralized, meaning it is at least 10,000 years old. The teeth are not original to the jaw, but as composites they fit beautifully. This piece would have been from the lower jaw, toward the middle (see full skull for better idea of placement). Florida is well known for its Pleistocene era fossils, and this one is no exception.
American alligators are found all over the Southeastern United States, though there have been reports of the animal as far North as Arkansas. Alligators thrive best in warmer environments, so the idea of one surviving very long in colder rivers or sewers is unlikely. While babies can be kept as pets for a while, they will eventually grow too big for all but the most experienced reptile handlers to deal with, and are usually abandoned. Being ectotherms (cold blooded), alligators left in the wild in Missouri would probably succumb to the first truly cold weather we experience. Unfortunately the exotic animal trade is alive and well, and baby alligators will continue to occasionally pop up on the market.
Alligators are considered the apex predator in their environment, with their only real competition being pumas and black bears. This has recently changed, however, due to human intervention. A large number of Burmese pythons (destined for the pet trade) were accidentally released into the Florida Everglades. These snakes, which can exceed 10 feet in length, can easily pose a threat to even a large alligator. Measures have been taken to reduce or destroy the invasive pythons, but have met with minimal success.
Alligators were once considered a threatened species in America, but have since rebounded and are no longer considered endangered. This could change with the accidental introduction of the Burmese python. In addition to possibly preying on alligators, the pythons are also competing withe the alligators for food. It remains to be see if this situation will become a serious threat to the American Alligator.
Contrary to their appearance and reputation, American Alligators generally do not pose a threat to humans, though attacks and fatalities have been sporadically reported. Most often, these attacks involve humans going into the alligator’s territory, and being mistaken for food. An increasing number of attacks can be attributed to the alligators becoming accustomed to people, particularly if the humans in question have begun to feed the alligators. Feeding wildlife causes it to lose its fear of people, and more likely to attack. Being around people also means the animal can predict how people will behave, increasing the danger.
An alligators teeth are not made for chewing, but rather for holding. The majority of injuries and fatalities can be attributed to puncture wounds from teeth and traumatic injuries from dragging and rolling. If there is any message to take from this information, it is to be careful and use common sense. An animal that acts friendly is either accustomed to humans, sick, or both. Any animal can become dangerous in the wrong circumstances. All it takes to stay safe from wildlife is a little knowledge.
Skull: “Alligator Crâne et Mandibule” by Didier Descouens – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alligator_Cr%C3%A2ne_et_Mandibule.jpg#/media/File:Alligator_Cr%C3%A2ne_et_Mandibule.jpg
Alligator prenasalis: “Alligator prenasalis” by Ghedoghedo – took the foto on the “American Museum of Natural History” in New York. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Alligator_prenasalis.JPG#/media/File:Alligator_prenasalis.JPG
American Alligator: “American Alligator” by Postdlf from w. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:American_Alligator.jpg#/media/File:American_Alligator.jpg