Gator encounters are gaining worldwide attention and quite a following. Here are some facts about alligators you might not know.


Female alligators rarely exceed 10 feet in length, but males can grow much larger. The Florida state record for length is a 14 feet 3.5 inch male from Lake Washington in Brevard County. The Florida record for weight is a 1,043 pound, 13 feet 10.5 inches long, male from Orange Lake in Alachua County.

Nearly all alligators become sexually mature by the time they reach approximately 7 feet in length, although females can reach maturity at 6 feet. It may take a female 10 to 15 years to reach this length, and a male 8 to 12 years.


The most recent evidence indicates that crocodilians (which include alligators) and dinosaurs evolved from a common ancestor. So, even though alligators are classified as reptiles along with lizards, snakes and turtles, they are actually more closely related to birds, whose direct ancestors were dinosaurs. Alligator forerunners and relatives have been around for a very long time. The largest was Deinosuchus, a 40 foot alligatoroid that lurked in coastal habitats all over North America around 70 million years ago. Damaged bones suggest that unwary dinosaurs were a regular part of the “terror croc’s” diet.

The Heart of an Alligator

While most reptiles have 3-chambered hearts, the heart of alligators and all crocodilians, has 4 chambers, a trait shared with mammals and birds. The advantage of a 4-chambered heart is that oxygenated blood and deoxygenated blood are separated, which results in more efficient respiration. An alligator can stay underwater without air for more than two hours.


Alligators aren't picky about what they eat. They are carnivores, so any type of prey is a meal to these reptiles. Alligators may eat fish, mollusks, birds, small mammals and other reptiles. Though carnivores usually only eat meat, alligators will also munch on fruit.


The temperature of the alligator's nest determines what sex the offspring will be, according to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology. Alligator eggs become male or female depending on the temperature, male in warmer temperatures and female in cooler temperatures. Females are produced when the temperatures are below 82.4 F and males are produced at temperatures above 91.4 F. A temperature of 87.8 F will produce an even number of males and females.

As the eggs incubate in the nest, the female will watch over them. In September, when the babies are ready to hatch, she will help them by removing debris covering the nest and she may also help the babies by breaking the shells with her mouth.

The Name

Early Spanish soldiers and settlers in Florida called the weird-looking reptiles they encountered el lagarto, which is Spanish for “the lizard.” In time, the name morphed into allagarter and finally, alligator.

The Bite

You really, really don’t want to be bitten by an alligator. A 2004 study of wild and captive alligators found that large gators bite down with 13,172 Newtons –or 2960 pounds– of force, one of the most powerful bites ever recorded for a living animal. Alligators have a powerful bite, but the muscles that open the jaw are relatively weak. An adult human could hold the jaws of an alligator shut with their bare hands.

Bone Breakdown

An alligator stomach is a hostile environment. Their stomach acids have a pH of less than 2—in the range of lemon juice and vinegar—and most soft-bodied prey is totally digested in two to three days. If you wound up in a gator stomach, however, you'd stick around a bit longer. Bone and other hard parts can take 13 to 100 days to disappear completely.

Healing Factor

Alligators are tough—and not just because of the bony armor in their skins. Serum in American alligator blood is incredibly effective at combating bacteria and viruses, meaning even alligators that lose limbs in mucky swamps often avoid infection.

Perching Gators

While on the lookout for alligators, you should remember to occasionally look up. American alligators, as well as several other species of crocodylian, are fairly accomplished climbers. As long as there’s enough of an incline for them to haul themselves up, gators can climb trees to get to a better basking spot.


An alligator has roughly 80 teeth in its mouth at one time. As the teeth wear down they are replaced with new teeth. An average alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime. An alligator can rip and swallow its food, but it cannot chew.

Mix and Match

An alligator has five toes on its front feet and four webbed toes on its back feet, which helps it swim.


An alligator can live for more than 50 years in captivity. The oldest alligator in captivity is over 76 years old and lives in a zoo in Siberia. The lifespan of alligators in the wild is 35 to 50 years.

Source: Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Mental Floss, Florida Alligator Marketing and Education