like other crocodilians, are large, lizardlike animals with powerful
tails that are used both in defense and in swimming. Their eyes, ears,
and nostrils are placed on top of their long head and project slightly
above the water when the reptiles float at the surface, as they often
do. Alligators differ from crocodiles in having broader
snouts; in crocodiles, moreover, the fourth tooth in each side of the
lower jaw projects outside the snout when the mouth is closed.
Alligators are carnivorous and live along the edges of relatively
large bodies of water, such as lakes, swamps, and rivers. They dig
burrows in which they escape from danger and in which they hibernate
during cold weather.
Mississippi, or American, alligator is
found in the southeastern United States. It is black with yellow
banding when young and is generally brownish when adult. The maximum
length is about 19 feet, but it more typically ranges from about 6 to
12 feet. The Mississippi alligator has been hunted for its hide, and
its young have been sold in large numbers as pets. It disappeared from
many areas where it was once abundant and was later given legal
protection from hunters, until it made an excellent comeback and
limited hunting seasons were again established. The adult alligator
feeds mainly on fishes, small mammals, and birds but may sometimes
take prey as large as deer or cattle. Members of both sexes hiss, and
the males also give loud roars that carry over considerable distances.
During the breeding season, the female builds a mound nest of mud and
vegetation in which she buries about 20 to 70 hard-shelled eggs. She
guards the eggs and may at this time be dangerous. Members of this
species usually avoid humans.
crocodile is of particular
interest because of its evolutionary position: the crocodiles are the
last living link with the dinosaur-like
reptiles of prehistoric times. They are, at the same time, the nearest
living relatives of the birds.
"crocodile." Encyclopędia Britannica
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