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American Alligator

The American alligator, native to the southeastern United States, is a fascinating reptile that has captured the imagination of many. These impressive creatures are known for their large size, powerful jaws, and unique adaptations that make them apex predators in their environment.

American alligators have a distinctive appearance with their armored bodies covered in scales ranging from olive brown to black, complemented by lighter-colored bellies. They can grow up to 15 feet in length, with short legs equipped for quick movement on land and powerful tails that propel them swiftly through the water.

American alligators primarily feed on fish, turtles, birds, and small mammals, using their keen senses and powerful jaws to capture prey. Despite their fearsome reputation, American alligators are known as a keystone species, they play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of their ecosystems.

The Little Rock Zoo is home to a male Alligator named Amos who was born in 2009. You can visit Amos just outside the Reptile House. In the Spring and Summer months join us for a keeper chat on Saturdays at 10:30 AM to learn more (subject to change).


These remarkable reptiles inhabit various freshwater habitats such as swamps, marshes, lakes, and rivers throughout the southeastern US. They are particularly well-adapted to thrive in both aquatic and terrestrial environments.


American Alligators can reach up to 15ft in length and are the apex predators in their environment.

  • Alligators are equipped with osteoderms which are bony plates embedded under the dermal layers of the skin acting as protection for the alligator's internal organs and tissues. It's thought that they may also aid in thermoregulation.
  • Alligators have five toes on their front legs and four toes on their back legs.
  • Their long snouts have nostrils at the end, allowing them to breathe while submerged.
  • Alligators have clear eyelids called nictitating membranes that protect their eyes while underwater.
  • The muscles used for opening an alligator’s mouth are relatively weak, but the closing muscles are incredibly strong, exerting pressures of up to 300 pounds per square inch.

Once endangered due to habitat loss, overhunting, and pollution, the American alligator faced a bleak future by the mid-20th century. However, thanks to significant conservation efforts, their population has rebounded remarkably. By the 1950s, overhunting and habitat destruction had brought these iconic reptiles dangerously close to extinction. However, legislative actions, such as the outlawing of gator hunting in Florida in 1962 and federal protection in 1966, marked a turning point in their conservation. This, combined with broader conservation efforts, led to their removal from the endangered species list in 1987. Today, with an estimated population of 5 million individuals, the American alligator is classified as least concerned by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Nevertheless, ongoing conservation endeavors remain vital to ensure their long-term survival. The Little Rock Zoo donates to the Orianne Society and other organizations for the conservation of reptiles.

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