Southwest Florida Wildlife – The American Alligator

All month in November, we’ve been blogging about some of the amazing wildlife you’ll find on our sightseeing and nature watching tours. We started with the Bottlenose Dolphin, and the American Bald Eagle. Well, if you’re outdoors in Florida, you can’t rule out seeing what we’re going to talk about this week: The American Alligator!

The American Alligator is a large reptile, with thick limbs, a broad head and very powerful tail. The are typically between 8 and 12 feet long, and weigh anywhere between 300 and 800 pounds. In terms of diet, an alligator is a few things: First, it is a carnivore, eating a diet of only meat. Second, it is an ambush predator, meaning that it “sneaks up” on its prey. Lastly, it is an apex predator, meaning it has no natural enemies. Common meal for an alligator include fish, turtles, snakes, and small mammals.

Alligators are superb swimmers, and spend most of their lives in the waters of rivers, swamps, and marshes of the Southeastern United States. They can survive in fresh and brackish waters, but they lack the salt-extracting glands that crocodiles have in order to survive in salt water. Southwest Florida is an ideal habitat for alligators, with lots of fresh-water rivers, estuaries and mangrove swamps for them to call home!

Some cool alligator facts for you to think about the next time you see an alligator:

Baby Alligator - Cruise Naples
Alligators are actually a very paternal species. They nurture and protect their young for the first six months to two years of life. This is likely a key factor to their long lifespan and their ability to survive the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.

  • Alligators are an ancient species, more than 150 million years old, managing to avoid extinction 65 million years ago when their prehistoric contemporaries, the dinosaurs, died off.
  • Alligators in the wild are believed to live 35 – 50 years. In captivity their lifespan may be significantly longer, perhaps 60 – 80 years.
  • The longest recorded length for an alligator is 19 feet 2 inches. This animal was trapped in the early 1900s in the State of Louisiana.
  • An alligator’s jaw muscles used for biting (closing mouth) are very strong. However, the muscles an alligator uses to open its mouth are weak—one can hold the jaw shut with bare hands or a piece of duck tape.
  • Some sources state that alligators can reach running speeds of 20 mph. Nevertheless, an alligator cannot run at its top speed for long (sometimes only 50 feet). You almost never have to worry about them chasing you. They are ambush predators, so it is not in their nature to chase anything.

Part of the nature of alligators is their camouflaged bodies and their natural inclination to hide. So, we don’t always see them on our nature watching cruises, but the species is thriving in Southwest Florida, and we’ve certainly seen them before!
If you’re interested in going on one of our cruises, be sure to give us a call at 239.263.4949 or visit us online at Next week, we’ll be talking about another animal that commonly resides in Southwest Florida, [but far more attractive than the alligator] the Snowy Egret!