Are Alligators Nocturnal Or Diurnal? Their Sleep Behavior Explained

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator front view
© iStock.com/cturtletrax

Written by Janet F. Murray

Published: October 30, 2022

Share on:

Advertisement


Alligators are reptiles, so you might expect their sleeping behavior to differ from mammals or not. Whatever you may have thought about this reptile’s sleeping habits, you may still want to know the answer to the question, ”are alligators nocturnal or diurnal”? Learn how, when, and where this daunting creature sleeps. Stick with us to discover more about their hunting habits and how alligators view the world.

About Alligators

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator front view

Although alligators basking in the sun are a common sight, making people think they are diurnal, they are actually nocturnal.

©iStock.com/cturtletrax

Alligators are enormous reptiles that resemble the stuff of nightmares. Although these intimidating reptiles may look like giant lizards, they definitely do not fit the description in size or demeanor. Alligators belong to the crocodilian family, which includes caimans, crocodiles, and gharials. However, unlike other crocodiles, alligators are much smaller, with a broader snout plus a more extensive muscular tail. Also, alligators are black, while crocodiles are a lighter gray-brown color.

A full-grown male alligator can measure between 13 and 16 feet long, with female alligators only averaging 10 feet when fully grown. Additionally, alligators, like all crocodilians, are fond of wetlands. You will mostly find them inhabiting the shores of rivers, swamps, or marshes in wild areas. Alligators spend most of their time swimming, hunting, or basking in the sun.

Alligators are native to the Americas, so you will commonly see them in Central and South America, Mexico, the Caribbean, and south Florida. South Florida is also one of the few locations on earth where alligators and crocodiles share the same space.

Alligators’ Sleep Behavior De-mystified

Like their crocodilian cousins, alligators are nocturnal, although their sleep pattern is not entirely straightforward. According to scientific research, alligators are nocturnal, with an interesting tendency to be diurnal. They are most active at night but can also be active during the day. 

During the day, alligators prefer to bask in the sun or sleep. These huge reptiles spend up to 17 hours asleep within a 24-hour cycle. There is a good reason behind this extensive sleeping pattern. Alligators are cold-blooded animals and do not need to eat regularly throughout the day. However, because they are cold-blooded, they must conserve their energy.

How Alligators Sleep

alligator

Incredibly, alligators only sleep with half of their brain at a time.

©Svetlana Foote/Shutterstock.com

Alligators have a unique sleeping pattern in the animal kingdom, similar to their crocodilian counterparts. As per the research, alligators feature an individual sleeping behavior known as unihemispheric sleep. Such an unusual sleeping pattern means that although alligators are nocturnal, they don’t sleep as most mammals do, falling into a deep rest following numerous stages.

The science behind this unihemispheric sleep reveals that alligators sleep with one eye open at all times. When resting during the day, an alligator sleeps with half of its brain fully awake while the other half sleeps. As such, you will find an alligator resting with one eye closed while the other remains fully awake. The open eye is neurologically connected to the alert half of its brain during this resting state.

Additionally, alligators also have erratic behaviors when it comes to their sleep characteristics. Some alligators prefer to rest during the day out in the open, basking in direct sunlight. However, research also reveals that alligators prefer to rest when hidden in their “gator holes.” These holes are 65-foot-long tunnels full of mud and water, protecting alligators from intense periods of cold or heat. They also use the gator holes as their housing during their brumation, a unique hibernation period for reptiles.

Are Alligators More Nocturnal or Diurnal?

From their studies, researchers conclude that alligators are more nocturnal than diurnal. At night, alligators are most active, focusing on hunting and feeding from dusk to dawn. Alligators can also thermoregulate, adjusting their temperatures seasonally and in between. Thermal acclimation plays a significant role when alligators are most active. Remember, alligators are cold-blooded reptiles, and the nighttime presents the perfect time for them to hunt and feed actively. 

During the night, the alligator’s body adapts and becomes active enough to use more energy than during the day. But despite spending most of their time basking during the day or resting in gator holes, daytime temperatures can impact the gator’s metabolism. Such a scenario means an alligator can still get hungry and decide to hunt for a daytime meal. But the bottom line is that alligators are more active at night, making them more nocturnal than diurnal.

Alligators’ Nocturnal Vision in their Natural Habitat

Closeup of an alligator's eye

Alligators have excellent nocturnal vision.

©iStock.com/Janet Griffin-Scott

Like most nocturnal animals, alligators are known for their excellent vision and movement, even in darkness. That is thanks to the phenomenon of the “eye-shine” present in various nocturnal animal species. The “eye-shine” or tapetum lucidum is a unique part of the alligator eye that provides light-sensitive retinal cells with extra photon-photoreceptor stimulation.

With this additional capability, the tapetum lucidum becomes a natural reflector system that enhances visual sensitivity even at low-light levels of the night. This eye feature is also present in other nocturnal animals, such as cats. The only difference is that alligator eyes glow red, while cat eyes glow a reflective yellow.

Fun Facts about Alligators

alligator

Alligators are apex predators with an immense bite force

©Ernie Hounshell/Shutterstock.com

As one of the world’s largest and most fearsome reptiles, alligators are fascinating animals. Here are several intriguing bits of nocturnal alligator information beyond their sleeping and hunting habits.

1. Nocturnal Alligators Can’t Sweat to Cool Off

Alligators lack sweat glands due to their scaly and rigid skin structure to help them sweat and cool off. This skin texture of the nocturnal alligator means that these reptiles can’t regulate their body temperature whenever it’s too hot. To counter this deficit, alligators prefer opening their mouths and letting off the extra heat to cool. Likewise, alligators can fight extreme heat by swimming or basking in a shady area. Despite being able to thermoregulate to a certain extent, alligators also favor using their energy to digest food rather than regulating their body temperatures.

2. Alligators Have the Strongest Biteforce

Like their crocodile counterparts, alligators have one of the world’s most potent animal bite forces. Studies reveal each alligator bite exhibits a bite strength of 2,980 PSI. Such a bite force can only compare with other apex predators, such as the Nile crocodile, or the great white shark.

3. Alligators Are Among the Most Vocal Reptiles

Unlike other reptiles, alligators are highly vocal non-avian reptiles. These reptiles can hiss, growl, and even grunt, whether above or below their water habitats. However, alligators lack vocal cords despite being highly expressive verbally all year round.

4. Habitat Loss Is a Danger to Alligators

The American alligator was once given priority as an endangered species. However, this reptile’s endangered ranking has improved to one of the least concern due to population increases. Still, conservationists express concerns about the alligators’ habitat loss due to expanded development.  

5. Hatching Temperature Determines an Alligator’s Gender

During hatching, the temperature determines whether the alligator eggs come out male or female. For example, male alligators will hatch from the eggs if the temperature rises above 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Female hatchlings occur whenever the temperature drops below 82.4 degrees Fahrenheit. On the other hand, a temperature of 87.8 Fahrenheit is likely to produce an equal number of male and female hatchlings.

6. Alligators Do Climb

Despite their physique and body structure, alligators occasionally climb trees and fences. This fascinating behavior is possible thanks to the alligators stabbing claws and powerful legs.

7. Alligators Are Solitary Animals

Alligators are primarily known for being solitary animals in the wild. Mature male alligators are especially fond of living alone and not sharing their space with other alligators. Younger alligators are tolerant and tend to live close to each other in a congregation.

Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference?

Navigate to Nocturnal vs. Diurnal: What’s The Difference? for further information about the nocturnal and diurnal phenomenon in various living creatures.

Up Next


Share this post on:
About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with more than eight years of content creation experience. My content writing covers diverse genres, and I have a business degree. I am also the proud author of my memoir, My Sub-Lyme Life. This work details the effects of living with undiagnosed infections like rickettsia (like Lyme). By sharing this story, I wish to give others hope and courage in overcoming their life challenges. In my downtime, I value spending time with friends and family.

Thank you for reading! Have some feedback for us? Contact the AZ Animals editorial team.