Lurking in southern swamps from the Carolinas to Louisiana, alligators' place in folklore is both well-established and well-deserved. Get too close to one, and you'll find that their predatory abilities are no tall tale. What makes them so dangerous?
A gator's brain might weigh less than the amount of cream you put in your morning coffee, but that doesn't mean you should take these scaly creatures lightly. Having such a small brain means that an alligator will eat anything that moves when it's time for a meal, whether it's a rodent, a bird or a child.
Alligators can go a few years without eating, but that doesn't mean their reputation as one of nature's most dangerous predators isn't well-deserved. Why can they go so long between meals? It's because alligators are cold-blooded and store extra calories in fat deposits at the base of their tails. They can live off these fat reserves for a few years before going on the prowl again.
Alligators walked the earth along with the dinosaurs; they've been around more than 180 million years. The reptiles from the order Crocodylia all have a similar body type, consisting of a large head, a lizard-like body, four stubby legs and a long tail.
Tipping the scales at about 600 pounds, the average male gator weighs about twice as much as its female counterpart and is about three feet longer (an average male is 11 feet, and an average female is 8 feet). Larger males can weigh more than 1,000 pounds, and one of the largest in captivity weighs more than 2,000 pounds.
Each of the jagged ridges on an alligator's back is actually a plate underneath the skin that serves as a natural suit of armor. A gator's many osteroderms make it very hard for potential predators to penetrate their skin.
Unlike their outer lids, which close top-to-bottom, an alligator 's inner eyelids close back-to-front, allowing them to preserve their eyes and see more clearly when they are underwater. This second set of eyelids is part of unique sensory system that allows an alligator to stay underwater for 10 to 20 minutes at a time.
Alligators have small lungs and use anaerobic respiration when using their muscles. Humans, by contrast, use aerobic respiration in all activities except ones that are extremely demanding, such as sprinting or lifting weights. Anaerobic respiration requires energy to be generated faster than oxygen is available, thus making any human or gator who uses anaerobic respiration in physical activity fatigued faster. As a result, alligators can 't exert themselves for longer than 30 minutes before they 're completely drained of energy.
After lurking in the water for hours, an alligator can quickly and violently thrust itself up as high as 5 feet out of the water to snap at animals in low tree branches. Alligators eat nearly anything they can get their powerful jaws on.
After breeding in the spring, a female alligator builds a nest and lays 30 to 50 white, hard eggs. The eggs ' incubation period is about 40 days, and the mother will protect her young from danger. Alligators are one of the only modern reptiles that care for their young.
Alligators become much less active as the temperature lowers in the winter. They stop feeding when the thermometer goes below 70 degrees Fahrenheit and become dormant in the cold winter months, burrowing their way into a den at the edge of a pond or river until the temperature goes up again.