The American Alligator is the only species from the family Alligatoridae that is native to the United States. Alligators are not an endangered species. They were taken off the endangered species list in 1978; however, they are protected in all 10 states where they occur. How does harvesting them protect the species? As a sustainable economic resource, alligators are important to regional economies. That value serves as an incentive to protect and manage alligator habitat. Responsible recreational and commercial harvest is a critical component of effective habitat management, which guarantees the future of the alligator and the many other species of animals and plants that share its habitat.
The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), a reptile, is a member of the Family Alligatoridae. Alligator populations reached their lowest levels in the early 1960’s due to several factors. However, management and conservation actions by state and federal governments that were required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allowed the alligator population to increase. They were removed from “total protection” status under the ESA in 1987. The alligator is now listed as “threatened by similarity of appearance” because of its likeness to other protected crocodilians worldwide. This provides greater flexibility for South Carolina and other southeastern states to manage alligator populations. At least 100,000 alligators occur in the state of South Carolina.
Alligators are quite widespread within the United States. Well, they are limited to the southeast primarily, but they occur from the southern tip of Texas to the northeastern part of North Carolina. Alligators are primarily limited by temperature, not habitat. Alligators can survive in a variety of habitat types and do well in riverine environments. Though these wetland types to extend over much ov the eastern U.S., cold weather keeps gator populations limited southward. However, a small number of individual alligators do naturally occur in areas thought not be suitable gator habitat.
When alligators hatch, they are about 8 inches in length. They will grow appoximately 10 inches each year, but that is dependent upon environmental conditions. Only about 20 percent of the young gators will survive to maturity. Predators such as raccoons, birds, snakes, otters and other alligators get the majority of the hatchlings.
In general, American alligators usually stay near the location where they were hatched for at least two to three years before moving out and establishing their own range. Females generally have smaller home ranges than males.
Alligators can live up to 60 years in captivity, but in the wild they rarely live more than 50 years. Male alligators can grow up to 16 feet in length and weight up to 800 pounds, although 13-footers are rare. Female alligators can grow up to 10 feet and both males and females are capable of reproduction at about 6 to 7 feet in length. After breeding, females lay an average of 35 to 40 eggs that incubate for about 65 days.
Alligators are carnivores and will eat almost anything they can catch. While alligators are small, ther diet consists mainly of small prey such as snails, crayfish, frogs, insects and other invertebrates. Depending on their size, larger alligators may eat fish, turtles, snakes, waterbirds, raccoons, beavers and otters. Alligators also feed on carrion and, given the opportunity, they may also eat pets and smaller domestic animals, such as dogs, cats, goats and pigs.