Alligators As Pets

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Alligators; are you sure?

By Christina Obrecht, June 3, 2008 8:00 PM PST


General information on crocodilians:

There is so much information about these wonderful animals that the general public does not know, or are never informed of. American alligators are one of the largest and most intelligent reptiles around. They can weigh as much as 3 cars and are capable of tackling a zebra… Most however, are timid and lazy, spending their days lurking in the water waiting for a meal. These are very social animals gathering in groups to bask in the sun, share meals, courting and nesting. They do not bother human beings, unless we bother them first. Such as stepping too close onto their “property”, harming them, catching them, and so forth.

Crocodilians are excellent hunters, and have very stealthy movements to catch their victim. All forms of crocodilians are nocturnal - meaning - they hunt for their prey at night. They can sense, whether or not, a human or another animal willing to take them on, is dangering them. That is when they will either retreat or fight back. So be careful as to what your intentions are with these very highly, skilled, animals!

Sensory organs:

All crocodilians have what is known as an integumentary sense organ (ISOs), or dermal sensory organ. They are sensory cells that are present in the integument layer of the skin (dorsal and ventral scales). These are located on the upper and lower jaw, head, surface of the neck, body, tail, and inside the legs of most crocodilian species, however, some can be located in different areas of the body - depending on the type of “croc”. Those around the jaws are mechanoreceptors, which can detect pressure changes. They are used when the croc is underwater to sense the proximity of the number of prey. Pressure waves form the prey’s movement, will fire up these sense organs, and tell it where the waves are coming from, and of course will catch it for lunch. Some sensory organs can also play a sensory role, while on the look out for prey. Of course rocks, sticks, and pebbles do not promote a biting response. Meat however, is recognized as food for the hungry predator. Croc’s have poor vision underwater, therefore, this is where the ISOs also come into play.




Just how many species are there?

There are 2 species of alligators, 13 kinds of crocodiles, 6 species of caiman, and 2 species of gharials. All of these are survivors from a prehistoric age. Their relatives (dinosaurs), inhabited the earth around 200 million years ago. All the species listed above, are the closest living relatives to dinosaurs, with the exception of birds.

The 2 different kinds of alligators are: American, and Chinese. Alligators are mainly found in southeastern North America and most of South America. These spectacular reptiles can reach an enormous length of 18 feet or more. However, when any of the 4 subspecies listed above, reach this size, they are hunted and killed for food and or for their skin. So finding a “croc” this size is very rare today.

I am not going to list all the different species of crocodiles, however, the most common croc, is the Nile crocodile. In the water, Nile crocodiles are nearly invisible. Only their eyes, ears, and nostrils are above the water when hunting. It has a dark, olive color, that allows for excellent camouflage in the water or on land. Some crocodilians can hold their breath, while submerged under water, for over an hour. Crocodiles are the most widespread of all crocodilians; inhabiting Central and South America.

Caimans also are found in the same areas as alligators; Southeastern North America and South America. The most famous and largest of this subspecies is the black caiman; reaching to over 19 feet! They are also the biggest predator in South America. They live in the flooded Amazon forest, around lakes, and slow-flowing rivers They also have sharp eye sight and hearing, making it easier for them to hunt. My advice is, beware of these very intelligent, agile creatures!

Gharials? Just what are they? Most people have probably never really heard about this fascinating reptile. There are only 2 species, and are easy to remember; the gharial, and the false gharial. Gharials are found in Southern Asia, while the false gavial (another name for gharial) is located in Southeast Asia. Gharials have a light-colored, slender body with extensive webbing between the toes on their back feet. Although they are well adapted to the water, they are not fast swimmers. These 2 species of gharial are endangered. Some scientists have caught them for captive breeding. Now instead of 300 wild gharials, there are over 1,500 living in the wild today.

What is the difference between all these subspecies?

In a different section on my site, I will have pictures of each crocodilian subspecies so you can notice the differences. If you have a hard time deciphering them yet, do not worry; they will have captions, and facts. I’ll just go over a little bit with you right now.

Gharial and crocodile snouts are specifically made for catching fish. They both have long, narrow snouts that allow for this, especially since they spend most of their time under water. Of course, the crocs eat bigger prey, like mammals.

Crocodiles have the least amount of teeth. They only have 68. Their’s however, are not all the same size. On the bottom jaw of a crocodile, there is one significantly large tooth on each side. Well if you can only imagine what they are made for; mainly to keep a good grip on their prey. A crocodile will grab its prey and always drag it under the water where it will drown their food before it eats it. This is not popular among other crocodilians. The back feet of a crocodile are webbed, while the front ones are not, unlike alligators and caimans. This helps to balance and move the croc; mainly underwater. Most people have a hard time distinguishing a croc from an alligator. Well, the first place to look at would be the head. Crocs have longer, more pointed snouts than alligators and are triangular shaped. Next would be the coloration. Alligators are, of course, strictly one color as an adult - Darkish-green, and actually sometimes slate to dark gray. Crocs are olive green. Check the webbing of the feet, and also check the shape and size of the jaws. As I had mentioned the differences above. The largest crocodile is the saltwater croc, which can weigh up to 2,420 lbs. That’s as much as three cars!

Alligators are the most astonishing of the crocodilian species. They are the only type that can survive at temperatures as low as 53 degrees F., and can live outside the tropics. All of the alligators’ feet are webbed, which make for an excellent swimmer. Caimans, as well as alligators, have broader snouts and stronger jaws that allow them to take on prey even bigger than themselves. The alligator has a very strong bite force, at around 2,000-2,500 pounds of pressure. They are born with a full set of 80 teeth. Can you imagine a little hatchling with 80 teeth? Of course they are not full size when hatched. They get bigger as the body grows, and the teeth get replaced with what we see when we want to get as far away from them as we can. But do not judge an alligator, as they do not judge you. You give them respect, they will respect you. Believe it or not, Their jaws are mainly made for closing on food. When it comes to opening their mouth, they are weak. You could put a rubber band around the mouth of a full grown alligator, and it will not be able to snap the band. The largest gator was known to be 18 feet long. Most do not get that large anymore due to hunters.

Caimans have pretty much the same characteristics and way of living like the alligator. Caimans are usually smaller than alligators in size. There is only one species of caiman that can grow to over 19 feet - the black caiman. One difference you will be able to notice, on the head of a caiman, will be on the top of their heads. Most have bonier ridges between their eyes versus alligators. These help strengthen the skull and protect it from any predators willing to take them on. One of the biggest predators of any crocodilian, would be the anaconda. An anaconda can strangle these huge reptiles and even swallow them whole!

What the heck is a gharial, and where did that name come from? The name comes from the bump on their nose, which is called a ghara (pot). Males have bigger “pots” on the end of their snouts than females. Gharials do not get that large. They have fewer rows of armored scutes (osteoderms) along its back than other crocodilians. These scutes help to protect from predators, as well as aid in thermoregulation. They have a lightly colored body with extensive webbing between the toes on their back feet. Even though they are highly adapted to life in the water, they are not fast swimmers and have relatively weak legs. You think they would be with their webbed feet…. Obviously, this is the most recognizable of all crocodilian species due to its extensive, slender, snout. Gharials have 110 teeth that are all the same size in order to easily catch and tear the fish. Their favorite meal tending to be predatory catfish. Unfortunately, gharials are endangered. However, their populations have been growing in the wild as I mentioned before.

Weird question?

Why do the Chinese worship the  chinese alligator?

People in China have worshiped the dragon, a mythical creature, for many centuries. The original stories surrounding the dragon may have been based on the real life Chinese alligator. According to ancient texts, the dragon was a supernatural creature that could take on many different forms. It could change instantly from thick to thin or long to short, and could soar into the heavens or plunge to the depths of the sea.

Well obviously alligators can not fly, or take on any form of drastic changes as stated above; except growing from a baby to an adult. I guess you can say the Chinese highly worship these wonderful reptiles.

Is having a pet crocodilian a good idea?

Although I myself have several pet alligators, I do not suggest having one as a pet, unless you are an expert and know what you are doing. This includes handling, feeding, temperature and humidity checks, housing, proper cleaning and maintenance, and correct information on how to take care of these massive reptiles. Many people tend to buy them when they are young, and realizes as it gets bigger, they do not have room for it anymore. So where do you go with a 6 foot alligator…. Always remember, they are one of the closest relative to the dinosaurs, and their instincts will never change! If you give them a problem, you might end up with a serious injury. These animals are not to be taken lightly! No matter how much handling you do with your gator. It is said that crocodilians can not be tamed. That is false, but as I mentioned just a few words ago, they will always remain wild at heart.






Do albino alligators exist?

Yes, albino alligators do exist. Of course they are very rare, and maybe once in a while, you just might see some for sale. Albino gators do not survive well in the wild at all. One of their biggest disadvantages, is of course the color of their skin. They would not survive long in the wild due to their coloration; they have no form of camouflage which gives them away to any unwanted predators.

A true albino alligator will have pink eyes, if they have blue eyes, they are not considered “true” albino alligators. If you would like to see these beautiful gators, try going on-line and checking for zoos that hold them in captivity. They are quite amazing reptiles!


All crocodilian species are extremely smart, mild-mannered, social animals. They deserve to be kept in the wild, unless you are an experienced keeper, and respect them and allow them to do what they naturally do. They are wonderful to watch in their natural habitat, and an individual can learn a lot just by observing them. Remember, these are ancient animals that have over 200 million years of instinct, and can be fatal to a human if you “tamper” with them. If you choose to purchase one, please make sure you check with a professional and have everything you need to take the very best care of your gator. Good luck!!