Alligator, a large reptile that inhabits swamps, rivers, lakes, and marshes. There are two species of alligators. The American alligator is found from North Carolina south to Florida and west to central Texas. The Chinese alligator is found in the lower valley of China's Yangtze River. The Chinese alligator is smaller than the American alligator, but otherwise the two species are similar. The caiman is a closely related animal.

Alligator skin makes a handsome, durable leather and is widely used for handbags, wallets, shoes, belts, and watch bands. In the United States the meat of the tail is eaten in stews and soups. Hunting once brought the American alligator close to extinction. Since the 1960's, hunting has been strictly regulated, allowing American alligator populations to recover and thrive. Most commercial alligator products come from alligators raised on alligator farms. The Chinese alligator is endangered due to loss of its habitat and pollution of its remaining range.

The American alligatorThe American alligator grows up to nineteen feet long and weighs 600 pounds.
What Is Home to American Alligators?

American alligators live in watery areas of the southeastern United States. They live in lakes, ponds, and marshes. They live in rivers, creeks, and swamps. They even live in canals.

Alligators often dig burrows to live in. They use their mouths and clawed feet to rip and dig the earth. They sweep away loose mud and dirt with their tails. A burrow might be a hole or a tunnel in a mud bank. It might be a ’gator hole dug into the bottom of a pond.

’Gator holes are an important part of a swamp. Mud and plants pushed aside by the alligator become rich soil where new, healthy plants grow. During a drought, or dry period, a ’gator hole still holds water. It is home to both the alligator and its young. Fish, birds, and other animals live in and near the ’gator hole, too. They may stay until the rains return.