Alligator: Habits, Diet and Other Facts
Alligator is the name given to a group of vertebrate animals belonging to the Class Reptilia, Order Crocodylia and Family Alligatoridae. In Brazil, there are six species of alligators, they are: alligator-paguá or alligator-dwarf (Paleosuchus palpebrosus), alligator-açu (Melanosuchus niger), alligator-papa-yellow (Caiman latirostris), alligator-swamp (Caiman yacare), alligator (Caiman crocodilus) and alligator crown (Paleosuchus trigonatus).
Alligators, as well as other reptiles, have some characteristics that allowed these animals to definitively conquer the terrestrial environment, such as a skin resistant to water loss and eggs with a resistant shell and the presence of a liquid-filled chamber that protects the embryo. against desiccation.
Although alligators and crocodiles are very similar animals and are often confused, they have some characteristics that allow them to be differentiated, such as the shape of the snout, which is wider in alligators than in crocodiles, allowing the fitting of all teeth.
Alligator general characteristics
Alligators are reptiles belonging to the Alligatoridae family. Among its features, we can mention:
- They have dry skin, without the presence of glands, covered by horny scales. Adults have dermal plaques, under the dorsal scales, running from the neck to the tail;
- They are ectothermic, that is, their body temperature varies according to the environment, as their metabolism does not guarantee effective thermal regulation;
- They have a short, broad snout with both nostrils close to the end;
- They have a large mouth with conical teeth, and the jaw and maxilla are strong, which helps them both in feeding and in defense. In the mouth there is also a non-protable tongue;
- They present in the terminal part of their digestive system, the cloaca, which is also common to the excretory and reproductive system;
- They are predatory animals and feed on different species of animals, from small molluscs to large ungulates, however, it is important to highlight that they rarely attack humans. These animals also tend to attack animals that are weak and sick and that could not easily escape their attack;
- Its eyes (a pair) are located laterally and have, in addition to the upper and lower lids, a transparent membrane, called nictitant, which moves behind and under the lids, helping to protect them;
- They have two pairs of short legs with toes ending in claws and having swim membranes between them;
- They present pulmonary breathing;
- They are the first animals to have a heart completely divided into four cavities;
- Predominantly excrete uric acid, being considered uricotelic animals;
- Like other reptiles, they have separate sexes, with internal fertilization. Alligators are oviparous, and the eggs are laid in places, as if they were “nests”, formed by decaying vegetation. The breeding season varies between species;
- They have nocturnal habits, being found during the day sunbathing in groups;
- They can live for about 50 years.
Conquest of the terrestrial environment
Reptiles were the first vertebrate animals to definitively conquer the terrestrial environment, thus being able to live independently of the aquatic environment. Some adaptations were essential for this to happen, such as the presence of dry skin covered by scales and plaques; pulmonary breathing; the excretion of uric acid, which requires little water to be eliminated; internal fertilization; and the production of eggs with a tough shell, also featuring a fluid-filled chamber that protects the embryo from desiccation.