WILMINGTON — Although not as common a sight in North Carolina as it is in other Southeastern states, the American Alligator, or Alligator mississippiensis, inhabits a large swath of land ranging from Brunswick County, all the way to Gates County at the northern end of the state, and as far west as Robeson County.
As the Cape Fear region continues to grow and develop, interactions with these reptiles are becoming more and more common. To help people get to know them better, Port City Daily has compiled a list of 5 things you never knew about alligators.
A living fossil
According to National Geographic, fossil records indicate the crocodilian species is more than 150 million years old. Their evolutionary design managed to help them survive the extinction of the dinosaurs approximately 65 million years ago. More recently, these animals were hunted nearly to extinction — but the alligator has rebounded to the point that it is no longer on the endangered species list.
Designed for success
The alligators’ ability to survive is often credited to the way their bodies have developed over time. According to the Smithsonian National Zoo, alligators are defined by their muscular, “armored” bodies, flat tails, and a long rounded snout with upturned nostrils. The “armored plates” located on their backs and tails are called “osteoderms,” or “scutes.” An alligator has five toes on its front legs, with only four on the rear. The american alligator is typically black, or dark gray in colored, with young being recognizable by yellow stripes along their tails.
Smaller than their southern cousins
The North Carolina Wildlife Resources commission reports that although alligators in the deep south states, like Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, occasionally reach sizes of over 15 feet in length, here in North Carolina, the animals rarely grow larger than 13 feet. This has been attributed to the fact that our state receives much colder weather than much of the alligators’ more heavily populated territory, shortening their growth cycles and limiting their maximum size.
Although occasionally seen in saltwater, the American alligator lives almost exclusively in freshwater habitats, including rivers, lakes, streams, swamps, and marshes. According to National Geographic, alligators can grow to weigh over 1,000 lbs., but their streamlined design helps them move swiftly through their watery habitat. That being said, alligators are heavy and ungainly out of the water, and can only move swiftly in short bursts.
While some reptiles, like skink, guard their young while they’re still in eggs, the alligator is the only reptile in North Carolina to guard their young after giving birth. According to the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, this is mostly due to the variety of predators that look to feast on the young hatchlings. Their biggest predator of all? Other, larger alligators.