When the early Spanish explorers visited the southeastern now-USA coast, especially in Florida, they saw some of the biggest lizards they’d ever seen. El Largato (Spanish for ‘lizard’) became Anglicized into Alligator to describe these beasts that, according to the fossil record, have been around for more than 35 million years. Though the current record for the largest gator is over 19 feet long (and weighed over a ton!), the average adults are around 9-11 feet long and can live as long as a human. They have five toes per foot in the front and 4 toes per foot in the back. Their bite-force has been measured over 9400 newtons – the strongest of any currently living animal.
While we lived in Orlando, we were always cautioned that if there is a body of water, there could be a gator in it. I couldn’t help but always scan the surfaces trying to spy a dinosaur. The photo above is one I took of a 4-5 foot gator in the pond at the entrance of our subdivision (with a dragonfly buzzing around its head).
Gators are freshwater beasts that will eat pretty much anything they think they can overtake. Normally, at least in Florida, a gator isn’t considered a nuisance until it’s at least 4 feet long with the exceptions that it “approaches people, does not retreat if approached, or is in a location that is not natural”. Normally in Florida, a nuisance gator is killed and sold for it’s hide and meat. (BTW, a marinated, fried gator tale is kinda tasty!)
Enter the Gator Boys. Have you seen this show on The Animal Planet? These guys catch nuisance gators, take them back to their park in the Everglades, perform shows and release them back into a safe part of the wild. This is probably my favorite clip from Animal Planet’s “Gator Boys”.
I really like this show because they are an alternative nuisance gator removal (aka rescue) no-kill extraction unit group that shows these animals great respect in the Florida Everglades.
However, sometimes, in some places, the nuisance is overbearing. Presently I can’t find confirmation, but it’s my understanding that in the state of Louisiana, especially in the nation’s largest swamp, the Louisiana Atchafalaya River Basin, many years ago the American Alligator became a protected species. It worked so well that now there is a bit of an over-population. Therefore, for most of the month of September every year, there is a state-wide, tightly regulated gator hunting season.
Enter the History Channel’s “Swamp People”:
Globally, gators have some cousins. The most popular is the Crocodile. Next is the Caiman. Last is the Gavialidae. My short differentiation is that though all are Crocodilia, each are different sizes and have different shapes for their snout. Additionally, basically, gators live in the southeast US, Caiman live in South America, Gavialidae live in India, and Crocs live in SE Asia and Australia.
Finally, following is perhaps the best infographic about gators I’ve ever found.