Alligators and Crocodiles

Have you ever asked yourself what is the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Don’t they look alike? Well, they may look similar, but there are some differences.

Crocodiles vs Alligators

Alligators belong to the family of crocodiles. In Florida you will find the Mississippi Alligator or American Alligator – shortly called Gator.

The metabolism of alligators is slower than that of true crocodiles, so they can become twice as old, up to 50 years. In contrast to the rather pointed mouth of the crocodiles, that of the alligator is broader and rounded. Its upper jaw covers the lower jaw, and only the upper row of teeth is seen. This circumstance is responsible for the impression that he would “grin”.

The color of crocodiles is lighter and greenish, while alligators are gray to dark gray.

Crocodiles can excrete salt through special glands, which is why they are at home both in salt and fresh water. With alligators, salt excreting does not work very well, so they prefer fresh water.

Worldwide, Alligators are only to be found in the south of the USA (Mississippi alligator) and on the Yangtze River in China (China Alligator). Everywhere else you will meet crocodiles.


Alligators are 3-4 meters long on average, but can also reach a length of up to 6 meters. Females are somewhat smaller. The weight of an adult male can be 450 kg. The fact that they like to doze in the sun shall not mislead you. They are incredibly fast and dangerous hunters. On a short distance, 31 mph are no problem. For comparison: the speed record of a human is at 27 mph.

After mating, the female alligator lays up to 50 eggs. She cannot hatch the eggs because she would crush them with her weight. Therefore, she builds a nest of rotting plants and the resulting fouling gases provide heat for the eggs. If the babies hatch after about two months, they are 15 to 20 cm tall. In the first two years of life their mother protects them from raccoons, snakes and other predators. After that they are left on their own.

Alligators eat mainly fish, birds, turtles and smaller mammals. Larger gators sometimes snap for pets, so be very careful with dogs near water.


In Florida, there are almost only alligators. A few crocodiles live in the south, mainly in the Everglades. It is the only region in the world, where crocodiles and alligators meet!

50 years ago, they were almost extinct in many places. So they have been declared as protected species. Today, the number of alligators in Florida is estimated at around 1.5 million.

For many tourists, the exotic animals are the highlight of the Florida Fauna. You can meet alligators in rivers and at river banks, in ponds or in swampy terrain. This also includes ponds of golf courses and shopping centers! Climbing fences is no problem for them. They can jump as high as their body length.

If you meet them with respect and do not come too close, you need not to be afraid of these primeval creatures, because humans are not on their meal plan. Lethal incidents are tragic, but very rare. In the past 70 years, there were 26 deaths. Almost all of them happened to swimmers in cloudy waters or caused by carelessness.

Did you know?

When an alligator bites, he crushes bones easily. Only the White Shark has an even stronger bite force than the Alligator. One might think that the alligator has just as much strength to open his mouth. But far from it. The muscles that open his mouth are so weak that a human could hold it shut with bare hands. But beware: Touching an alligator can be life threatening! With their sharp claws, their agility and the muscle-packed tail, they are able to react swiftly.

Personal note

I love alligators. Already as a child, my favorite place in the Frankfurt Zoo was the Reptile House. Fascinated, I listened to the explanations of the keeper. Even today, after many Florida vacations, it is always a special experience to meet these ancient animals in the wild. I took several hundred photos of alligators. When we were in Venice for the first time in 2015, I read a road sign with the name “Alligator Drive”, I said to my husband, “Wouldn’t it be fantastic to live here?” 1 year later we became proud owners of our new vacation home – on Alligator Drive! And our beautiful pool villa got the appropriate name “Villa Happy Gator”!

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