Look, in the water: Is that a floating log or an alligator? Sometimes it can be hard to tell, because the color of an alligator's bumpy skin is really good camouflage, especially when it is resting. But if it needs to, an alligator can swim up to 20 miles per hour and run on land as fast as 11 miles per hour for short distances!
An alligator sweeps its long, thick tail back and forth to swim. On land, alligators often use their heavy tail to make wide, shallow holes called gator pits. When it rains, the pits fill with water and make a second home for the alligator. Other animals may use the pits as a water hole, but they have to be careful of the alligator!
A female alligator is a very good mother. She pushes together mud, sticks, and plants to make a nest. After she lays 20 to 50 eggs, she covers them with more plants, mud, and sticks. Most female reptiles lay their eggs and leave, but not alligators. The female stays near the nest to protect it from egg-eating predators. When the babies hatch, she helps them dig out; sometimes she even puts an egg in her mouth to gently help break the shell. The baby alligators can crawl and catch their own food, but they stay with their mother for up to two years. During that time, the female protects her young from animals that might eat them, including other alligators!
American alligators live in the wild in the southeastern United States. You're most likely to spot them in Florida and Louisiana, where they live in rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, bayous, and marshes. These reptiles are kind of clumsy on land, but they're built for life in the water. Great swimmers, they are equipped with webbed feet and strong tails that propel them through the water.
An average male American alligator is 10 to 15 feet (three to five meters) long. Half of its length is its massive, strong tail. An alligator can weigh as much as half a ton (1,000 pounds), but an average male weighs between 500 and 600 pounds (227 to 272 kilograms). Females are usually smaller than males.
As big and ferocious as the female alligator may look, she is a gentle mother. A mother alligator makes a nest on shore, where she lays her eggs. Then she guards her eggs until they're ready to hatch. At that point the babies start to make noises, and their mother hears her little ones' peeps as they break out of the eggs. She gently carries them- in her mouth- to the water nearby.
Newly hatched young are only about six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) long, and very vulnerable. Their mother protects them from predators, which include raccoons, bobcats, birds, and even other alligators. The young alligators stay with their mother for up to two years. After that, they're able to fend for themselves.