There are two species of alligator: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator. Both live around 30-50 years in the wild and up to 70 years in captivity.
These fascinating creatures are close relatives to crocodiles and birds (who would’ve guessed?) and their ancestry dates back to the times when dinosaurs walked the earth!
In this article, we’ll talk all about the alligator lifespan, how they grow, and how old they can become!
How Long do Alligators Live?
The typical alligator lifespan is 30-50 years. This is an average lifespan, meaning that some alligators will die much younger—and some will live to be much older! Some alligators have even lived over 80 years.
There are many variables that affect an alligator’s lifespan. Although alligators are almost at the top of the food chain, they do have one predator: Humans do a lot of damage to the alligator population.
From hunting to habitat loss and contamination from pesticides and fertilizers, humans, unfortunately, cause many alligator deaths.
Alligators can also be killed by other gators, illness, or die of old age.
Alligator Lifespan: Captivity vs. In the Wild
Alligators can live much longer in captivity than in the wild—there’s actually a 20-year difference!
While wild alligators can be expected to live 30-50 years, captive alligators frequently live to 70 years or even older. The oldest alligator currently in captivity lives in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia and is over 85 years old!
That said, alligators should never be kept as pets. They are dangerous, wild animals. Not only do they make terrible human companions, but they’re also much happier in their natural habitat.
There are, however, many alligators in captivity. This includes zoos and sanctuaries, the best of which are helping to rebuild the alligator population!
Many of these programs breed and release alligators into the wild in an attempt to take the Chinese alligator, in particular, off of the endangered species list.
Other times, alligators are kept in captivity permanently for research, education, or conservation reasons.
Alligator Development and Lifecycle
A baby alligator’s parents mate in the early summer months, between May and June. Males seek mates through sound and scent, and females are attracted to males who are larger than themselves.
A female mates with just one male each season, while male alligators mate with several females.
The mother alligator then creates a nest made from plants and mud. Chinese alligators build their nests near their burrows, where they bromate each winter, in order to keep an eye on their eggs. American alligators build nests on the water’s bank.
About a month after mating, from June to July, the mama alligator will lay as little as 10 or as many as 90 eggs in her nest (it’s usually somewhere in the middle). She’ll cover them to keep them warm and safe during the incubation period.
Alligators are communicative animals, and this begins even before they hatch! From inside of their eggs, hatchlings will tell their mother when they’re ready to come out.
Once she’s alerted, she will uncover the nests and carry her eggs to the water. If the hatchlings struggle to break free from their eggs, the mother alligator will even help them by cracking the eggshells!
She will continue to care for them throughout their adolescence, working to keep them safe and protected.
Alligator babies are born a lighter color than adults. Chinese alligators are speckled, while American alligator hatchlings have stripes across their bodies.
Hatchlings are small at just around 6-8 inches (15-20 centimeters) in length. Due to their size, they have many predators, and 80 percent of hatchlings don’t make it to adulthood.
Hatchlings are born with many sharp teeth that they use to hunt and eat insects, amphibians, fish, and other invertebrates. They will also continue to grow new teeth throughout their lives, much like sharks, although exponential growth will stop in males around the age of 20.
Over time, hatchlings will grow much larger and darker in color. Chinese alligators grow to around 5-7 feet, while American alligators can grow to over 11 feet long. The largest alligator on record was captured in Arkansas in 2012, it weighed 1,380 pounds and was estimated to be 36 years old.
Each winter, Chinese alligators will go into a type of hibernation known as brumating. They slow down and live in burrows near the water. American alligators may also bromate if the temperatures drop low enough.
Once an alligator is 5-7 years old, they are ready to begin breeding themselves, and the life cycle begins anew.
What are the Most Common Causes of Alligator Death?
Alligators are hunted for their meat, organs, and skin. Their organs are believed by some cultures to have medicinal purposes, and their skin is used to make leather.
Neither species can be freely hunted, however. The Chinese Alligator is a protected species because it is so endangered. American alligators can typically be hunted only with a permit.
Humans are the alligator’s main predators, but hatchlings may be eaten by fish, birds, or other alligators.
Habitat loss is especially harmful for the Chinese alligator, whose home has been overtaken by rice fields. This, in addition to dams, has contributed to severe habitat loss.
Once having lived in bountiful wetlands, the Chinese alligator now survives only in the Yangtze River basin.
The American alligator has also lost habitat to human consumption, and scientists believe that this is part of the reason behind many recent alligator attacks.
Contaminated Food Sources
Nearby rice fields have polluted the Chinese alligator’s natural waters and food sources. The use of fertilizers and pesticides has killed some of the alligator population and contaminated their prey.
The American alligator faces similar threats when living near farmlands or other human areas.
Do Alligators Live Longer than Crocodiles?
Most crocodiles live around 30-40 years, while larger species may live around 70 years. The oldest crocodiles have lived to be over 100 years old, which is longer than any alligators on record. So yes, the oldest crocodiles do live older than the oldest alligator on record.
The oldest crocodile ever was named Mr. Freshie. He was caught by Steve and Bob Irwin in the 70s then lived in the Australia Zoo until his death in 2010 at an estimated whopping 140 years old! The oldest crocodile alive at the beginning of 2022 is a Nile Crocodile named Henry who is estimated to be 121 years old.
Are Chinese Alligators Endangered?
Chinese alligators are very endangered, with only around 120 left in the wild. They are the most endangered crocodilians (an order of animals consisting of crocodiles and alligators) in the world.
The species is very likely to go extinct, but there are groups making an effort to prevent this. Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is introducing captive-bred alligators to the area who are going on to live successful lives and even produce offspring themselves!
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