Alligators live in wet,
stagnant, freshwater environments such as ponds, marshes, or swamps.
Although alligators have heavy bodies and slow metabolisms, they
are capable of short bursts of speed that can exceed 30 miles
per hour. Alligators kill by biting their prey and then spinning
and convulsing wildly. Alligators are characterized by a broad
snout and very dorsally located eyes compared to crocodiles. Both
living species also tend to be darker in color, often nearly black
(though Chinese alligators have some light patterning. Also, in
alligators only the upper teeth can be seen with the jaws closed
(in contrast to crocodiles, in which upper and lower teeth can
be seen), though many animals bear jaw deformities which complicate
this means of identification.
The name alligator
is the Anglicized form of the Spanish phrase el lagarto (the lizard),
as the conquistadors who came to Florida referred to it. The American
Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is a member of the one
of the three families of crocodile-like reptiles, whose members
are living fossils from the Age of Reptiles, having survived on
earth for 200 million years. However, the alligators can be distinguished
from the crocodiles and ghavial by their head shape and color.
The crocodiles have a narrower snout, and unlike the alligators,
have teeth in their lower jaw which are visible even when the
mouth is shut. In addition, adult alligators are black, while
crocodiles are brownish in color. As with all crocodilians, and
the extinct traditional dinosaurs, alligators are of the reptilian
branch known as archosaurs. Modern birds are generally viewed
at present as living dinosaurs of the maniraptor group. Assuming
this is correct, the birds are also archosaurs and thus alligators
are far more closely related to birds than they are to lizards,
snakes, turtles or the tuatara.
Above Images From The US Fish & Wildlife Service