Species Dive 9: The iconic American Alligator

The American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is an iconic species in the southern United States and the state of Mississippi. These large reptiles are a common sight in the swamps and wetlands of the state, and play an important role in the local ecosystem. They are impressive to witness, both in size and agility, and have a rich history that is intertwined with the history of the state and its ecosystems.

The largest reptile in the state is the alligator. These creatures can grow in excess of 12 feet in length and weigh up to 1,000 pounds, making them one of the largest reptiles in North America (National Wildlife Federation n.d.). One fun way to estimate their size is to estimate the length (in inches) of their eyes to the tip of the snout. This roughly equates to their total length from head to tail in feet. Despite their size, alligators are extremely agile in the water, and are able to move quickly and quietly through the swamps and wetlands where they live. They can also move quickly on land when they need to. Their strength and speed allows them to be apex predators where they live.

American Alligators are important predators in their ecosystems. Their diet consists of a variety of prey, often catching weak or sick members of other vertebrate groups like birds, fish, and mammals. They will also scavenge meat from carcasses. Both of these actions aid in maintaining health wetland environments.

However, the status of the American Alligator in Mississippi (and elsewhere in the U.S.) has not always been healthy. In the early 1900’s, these creatures were hunted to near extinction for their valuable hides. Today, alligators are protected by state and federal laws, which prohibit hunting or harming these creatures without a permit. Conservation efforts, agricultural rearing of alligators, regulation of their hunting, and reduced demand for their products all contributed to their recovery success story. Public awareness and education has also helped. Along with other Gulf Coast states, Mississippi supports a wealth of alligators in its southern wetlands.

The American Alligator has an important place in Mississippi’s history, and has played an important role in the state’s culture and biodiversity. Their ecosystem services are irreplaceable. While they faced near-extinction in the early 20th century, conservation efforts have helped to bring the population back, and alligators are now a common sight in wetlands everywhere. It is important to continue to protect and conserve these creatures, in order to ensure that they continue to thrive and fulfill their important role for generations to come.


American Alligator | National Geographic. 2010. Animals. <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/facts/american-alligator>. Accessed 21 Apr 2023.

National Wildlife Federation. n.d. American Alligator. National Wildlife Federation. <https://www.nwf.org/Home/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Reptiles/American-Alligator>. Accessed 21 Apr 2023.

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