There are six extinct and two living types of these reptiles, belonging to the order Crocodilia.
These animals are known for their incredible hunting abilities and aquatic behavior, and in this article, we’ll be taking a look at the two living types of alligators.
- American Alligator
- Chinese Alligator
1. American Alligator
Scientific name: Alligator mississippiensis
This type of alligator is native to the United States, and it’s the larger of the two alligator species.
They’re known to inhabit the Southeastern USA, especially the states of Florida and Louisiana, but they also occur in Texas, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
American alligators inhabit swamp and slow streams, as well as ponds and lakes. They’re completely aquatic and they move very slowly on terrain. However, they’re incredibly quick in water and very few animals can escape them.
They prey by hunting other aquatic animals in the water, such as fish, turtles, waterfowl, and even Burmese pythons.
Their preferable method of preying, however, includes hiding at the shoreline, just beneath the surface of the water, and lunging at an animal approaching the water.
This type of alligator in Florida is known to hunt on land (never too far from water, though), and they can take down wild boars and deer. Most impressively, they can even kill black bears!
The American alligator has the second strongest bite force in the animal kingdom, with the saltwater crocodile taking first place.
However, the muscles tasked with opening their mouth are very weak, which means that they’re easily bound by duct tape or even a person holding their mouth with a hand.
Alligator interaction with humans is common, as we build houses close to their habitat.
Even though they don’t prey on people (unlike crocodiles, which are known to actively hunt people in Africa), alligators might not run at first sight of a human.
Attacks usually happen because a person gets too close to an alligator, either unknowingly in the water or on terrain.
2. Chinese Alligator
Scientific name: Alligator sinensis
Unfortunately, this type of alligator is critically endangered, as only 300 specimens were recorded in 2017. Current observations indicate that there are less than 150 specimens.
They’re some of the smallest crocodilians in the world, as they rarely grow past 7 feet in length.
Despite their smaller size, Chinese alligators have more advanced armor, with armor covering the belly. In comparison, American alligators don’t have armored bellies and they’re considered a weak spot.
They don’t have webbed feet, though, which takes away from their swimming abilities. Their prey isn’t as nearly as large as that of American alligators, as they mostly feed on fish, waterfowl, and shelled animals.
They also inhabit swamps and streams, but they had to move to higher altitudes because of habitat loss, so they live in colder areas. This leads to burrowing, a method of conserving temperature.
Offensively, this type of alligator in Asia hunts the same way the American alligator does. However, their bite isn’t as nearly as powerful, which is why they can’t take down larger prey.
They’re possibly the most docile crocodilians, and attacks on humans are extremely rare, as they show no interest in people.
Because humans are so tall, it’s possible that the alligators don’t think they could kill a human. The fact that people rarely come across these alligators is another reason why no attacks are recorded.
Despite this favorable relationship, people are the primary reason for this animal’s conservation status.
They were regularly killed up until the 21st century as many people believed that they were dragons and that eating their meat would cure illnesses.
Because of wild urban expansions in China, the majority of their territory was taken over by homes and urban environments.
American alligators are in a much better state of conservation, as they’re not at all endangered. Chinese alligators might possibly become extinct in the near future.
Both of these species live in aquatic environments and feed on animals that regularly approach those environments. They’re both great swimmers with robust armor and powerful jaws.
Attacks on humans are rare in both species, with the American alligator sometimes attacking humans, but those attacks happen out of self-preservation instincts.