Alligator mississippiensis

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This is a specific care sheet for American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), for more in this genus see Category:Alligator.

Species Information Bar
American Alligator care sheet
Alligator mississippiensis
American Alligator
American Alligator
Scientific classification

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Subphylum: Vertebrata

Class: Reptilia

Subclass: Diapsida

Order: Crocodilia

Suborder: Eusuchia

Family: Alligatoridae

Subfamily: Alligatorinae

Genus: Alligator

Species: A. mississippiensis

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis, sometimes referred to colloquially as a gator) is a reptile native only to the Southeastern United States, and is one of the two living species of alligator, a genus within the family Alligatoridae. It is larger than the other extant alligator species, the Chinese alligator.

Pet Reptile (Alligator mississippiensis) Care Information
Reptile Information Bar
Regions Found: The American alligator inhabits wetlands of southeastern United States
Natural habitat: Terrestrial, semi-aquatic
Longevity: 60+ years
Years to Maturity: 8 to 13 years at an average of 1.8 m (5.9 feet)
Adult Size: Adult male alligators are typically 11.2 to 14.5 ft (3.4 to 4.4 m) in length, though rarely exceeding 14 feet, while adult females average 8.2 to 9.8 ft (2.5 to 3.0 m)
Temperament: Aggressive/defensive
Housing, Feeding and Climate of Alligator mississippiensis
Housing Size: Your land mass should be 1.5 x (total length) long, by (total length) wide and open water area should be either 3-4 x (total length) long, by 2-3 x (total length) wide, by 1.5 x (total length) deep
Reptile Foods: See details below
Temperature: Overall temp should be 83-85 F with a basking temp of 94-97 F. Gators prefer warmer water, so a water temp of 80 F would be ideal.
Reptile Lighting: Very complex, see details below
Special Requirements:
Breeding Alligator mississippiensis
Breeding Difficulty: Very difficult
Alligator mississippiensis
Clutch Size:
25 to 60 eggs
Gestation Period: Approximately 70 days
Incubation Temperature: 23-34°C
Incubation Humidity:
Incubation Period: Approximately 65 days
Any serious health issues
Recommended Pet Supplies for Alligator mississippiensis

nb. All of these can be purchased from an online pet store


Forelimb showing the large claws and slight webbing between the toes
Tail which is for aquatic propulsion and as a weapon of defense

The American alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. Adult Alligators generally have a green, olive, brown, gray or nearly black color with a creamy white underside. Algae-laden waters produce greener skin, while tannic acid from overhanging trees can often produce darker skin. Juvenile alligators have a striped pattern for camouflage that they lose as they mature. Adult male alligators are typically 11.2 to 14.5 ft (3.4 to 4.4 m) in length, though rarely exceeding 14 feet, while adult females average 8.2 to 9.8 ft (2.5 to 3.0 m). One American Alligator reportedly reached a length of 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 m), which would have made it the largest ever recorded, but since it was caught in the early 1900's it is impossible to verify that claim. The tail, which accounts for half of the alligator's total length, is primarily used for aquatic propulsion. The tail can also be used as a weapon of defense when an alligator feels threatened. Alligators travel very quickly in water and while they are generally slow-moving on land, alligators can lunge short distances very quickly. They have five claws on each front foot and four on each rear foot. American Alligators have the strongest laboratory measured bite of any living animal, measured at up to 9,452 newtons (2,125 lbf) in laboratory conditions. It should be noted that this experiment has not (at the time of the paper published) been replicated in any other crocodilians. Some alligators are missing an inhibited gene for melanin, which makes them albino. These alligators are extremely rare and almost impossible to find in the wild. They could survive only in captivity. Like all albino animals, they are very vulnerable to the sun and predators. American Alligators can remain underwater for several hours if not actively swimming or hunting (then it is only about 20 minutes); they do this by rerouting blood to reduce circulation to the lungs, and thus the need for oxygen.

Alligators as pets[edit]

If you have no prior experience with reptiles or fish, getting a gator is not recommended. Owning a gator requires a good amount of knowledge of both reptiles and fish; their habits, needs, and maintenance. Additionally, if you are seeking a gator as a companion, owning one is not for you. They nether prefer nor like to be touched, and the tamest they will get is moderately aggressive. At a mere 3 feet in length, a good bite is potentially lethal.

Always plan first. Planning helps you to be prepared, and being prepared ensures that you will be ready for most situations when/if they arrive. Being pre-cautious is a must. Gators are very fast on both land and water. Although they are strongest in the water, they are capable of bursts of speed up to 30mph for a length of 50-60 ft. Taking steps to be safe should be common sense. Patience is a virtue. There will be many obstacles to overcome dealing with just about everything from feeding and cleaning schedules, to interaction and maintenance. If you are not patient, you could jeopardize the safety of both you and your gator. Persistence is self-explanatory. Never give up. Set your goals and stick to them, and all parties will benefit in the long run. The purpose of this is simply to inform you of the harsh realities that come with the responsibility of having a gator. It is by no means intended to dissuade your decision.


Two of the biggest issues with owning a gator is the size of the enclosure, and the duration of time owners are willing to keep them. If you are serious about owning one, you must consider this as a long-term investment. While juveniles are fairly easy to maintain, adults require a large amount of space and are the most difficult to keep. Another issues is that of growth. There are many variables that effect this, and all gators grow at different rates. It's good practice to always be prepared. Preparation and planning are the keys to owning a healthy gator.

It's a good idea to have your enclosure ready before you get him. By this, I mean your water needs to have a cycle already established. When fish extract oxygen from water, they release ammonia as a byproduct. The ammonia is broken down by bacterium into nitrite, which is then broken down into nitrate. These bacterium are not present in new tanks, and they need time to replicate. These bacterium are essential in keeping healthy fish because they break down the dangerous quantities of ammonia and nitrite in the water. This process also takes about a month, and is not started until fish are added. Dropping your gator in his new tank with fish at the same time will produce disastrous results. The fish will not be able to breathe, and will die very quickly. This will cause the amount of ammonia and nitrite in the water to skyrocket, causing potentially dangerous levels of ammonia.

The best types of fish to use are small barbs (tiger, gold, rosy), larger tetras (head and tail light, red eye, red minor, buenos aires), danios (zebra, leopard, pearl, gold) and rasboras (heteromorpha, scissortail, redtail, brilliant) because of their high tolerance to ammonia and nitrite. After adding the fish, it is important that you do not add any more until the cycle has been completed. After completion, the tank should be ready for your long-awaited friend.

It is important that you perform good practices while owning your gator. Good husbandry is always necessary, but it pays to be scientific as well. Once a month I measure my gators head, body and tail, so that I can calculate his rate of growth. This gives me an approximation on when I should have his next enclosure ready.

Gators like calm or slow moving water. Though it is not possible to keep a healthy gator or fish in stagnant water, there are little tricks you can do to keep the water constantly moving, and still have a happy gator. Placing pumps or wave-makers at the very bottom of the tank will not only keep the water moving, it will help push particles and waste toward the filter without disturbing the surface.


Hatchlings are usually between 7"-9" inches in total length. Your land mass should be 1.5 x (total length) long, by (total length) wide. This ensures your gator will have enough space to bask without feeling trapped. You may have a larger size land mass, but be sure your open water area meets the criteria below before experimenting with larger sizes.

Your open water area should be either 3-4 x (total length) long, by 2-3 x (total length) wide, by 1.5 x (total length) high OR 2-3 x (total length) long, by 3-4 x (total length) wide, by 1.5 x (total length) high. This may seem a bit grandiose, but your gator will spend most of the time in the water. In order to keep him healthy and happy, he needs a large amount of space to be able to swim. This also allots extra space needed to compensate for his rapid growth (which will be discussed next). You may not have any problems with adjusting the size of the land mass, however, these water sizes are important to the development of your gator and being thus, should not be altered outside of the recommended sizes.

I suggest starting out with a 55 gallon+ tank to ensure you will have the space to allow him to grow while planning his next enclosure.


You can decorate the tank as you see fit, but keep in mind your gator will more than likely just knock everything over, and/or destroy/try to eat it. Just make sure what you use is well grounded, and non-toxic.


Overall temp should be 83-85 F with a basking temp of 94-97 F. Gators prefer warmer water, so a water temp of 80 F would be ideal.

You may be asking why these temperatures are so specific. Gators are exothermic. What this means is their main source of body heat is taken from their environment. Like many herps they bask to gain warmth and store energy. When they have stored enough energy, or they become over-heated, they will then submerge themselves in the water. Even though they are extremely adaptive, the slightest change in temperature will not only effect growth, but appetite as well. When the temperature drops below 80F they will not feed as often, and if it drops below 73F they will stop feeding altogether.

The use of thermometers is extremely important. Placing one at the basking area, one on the opposite side of the tank or enclosure, and one in or at the water will help you determine all the necessary temperatures.

Water Heating[edit]

As discussed in the "Enclosure" section, a young gator needs lots of water, and trying to keep a steady temperature with your average tank heater just won't cut it. An external heater would be best, but using a 300 watt aquatic heater should keep your water temp steady in up to a 100 gallon tank. Remember to always use a heater with a thermostat.


It is imperative you keep a specific schedule for lighting your enclosure, so the use of automated timers is a must. Depending on the season, gators require specific durations of light. These are roughly:

Spring: 12 hours Summer: 14 hours Autumn: 10 hours Winter: 8 hours

Use of UVB and UVA lights is necessary. Make sure to place the lights above the land mass to provide the best possible basking area. The best source of heat during the night would be an infrared light bulb. These bulbs are ceramic and provide heat without light, and are perfect for keeping the basking area warm. Remember, gators are nocturnal. All though they typically hunt at night and sleep during the day, it is not uncommon to have an active gator when the sun is up. However, lighting your enclosure at night posts a possibility of disturbing the natural instincts and/or cycle of your gator, and could possibly make him ill.


Gators make quite a mess, and a normal tank filter will not do. An external filter would be your best bet. It should be for the size of your tank, not the amount of water you will have in it. For example, if you have a 55 gallon tank with 20 gallons of water, your filter should be for a 55 gallon tank. This may be expensive, but as I aforementioned, owning a gator is not cheap.


Gators eat a lot. A good mixed diet will allow the proper nutrition gators need. Dietary supplements can be used. Also, it is good to have a regular feeding schedule, and use the same type of feeding each time.

Recomendations four types: Fish (goldfish, barbs, danios, minnows, rasboras, tetras) Crayfish Crickets Pinky's/Fuzzy's

While feeder goldfish are the most inexpensive, adding other types of fish can make your tank look much more lively, and give your gator a choice for his late-night snacks.

Start with crickets and fish in your tank and allow him a week or so to get used to his new environment. This way ensures that he knows there is food always available for snacking. Then, when he has had time to adjust, begin slowly introducing the pinky's. It will be tough at first to get him on a regular feeding schedule, but it is well worth it in the long run. It is also very important that he sees you placing the pinky's in the tank. This shows him that you are responsible for his care, and will build trust over time. Also, there should be a regular ritual for feeding. When I bring my gators food home I go to the tank and hold the brown sandwich bag out so he can see it. He knows this means it's feeding time, and he gets very excited; occasionally jumping in and out of the water.

As he grows, you will need to upgrade the size of your feeders, and either the number of pinky's, or begin feeding him fuzzy's.


Although it will be very difficult to gage exact days for cleaning at first, your best bet is to stick with an aquarium-type schedule. Your land mass will require just as much cleaning as your water, and cleaning them separately is not recommended. Water changes and cleaning should be done the same day. This will become quite a big job, but when done all at once it limits the amount of "intrusions" in your gators environment. If done regularly, your gator will learn that this is a normal process, and not your attempt to "eat" him.

See Also[edit]