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Alligators and Caimans: Alligatoridae


Alligators are meat-eaters, though they are anything but fussy about their prey. Youngsters will dine on snails and other invertebrates (in-VER-teh-brehts), which are animals without backbones. As they grow, they switch to the adult diet, which includes fishes, birds, small mammals, and other vertebrates (VER-teh-brehts), which are animals with backbones. They will also sometimes attack and devour smaller alligators and caimans. The larger species in this family are strong enough to kill a cow or deer for dinner.

Alligators hunt by ambush or by stalking. In ambush hunting, they remain still and wait for a prey animal to wander by. Stalking is usually done in the water. The alligator slowly and carefully swims closer and closer to a prey animal, perhaps a deer drinking at a watering hole, and then lunges forward to snap its jaws shut around the animal.


The Chinese alligator has only a short time to mate, have babies, and eat enough to survive the year. The reason is the climate in which it lives. Chinese alligators make their home in the Yangtze River basin along China's central Atlantic coastline, an area that is cold much of the year. When temperatures drop in the late fall, the alligators slide into their winter burrows and stay there until the following April. They then crawl out to soak up the sun and warm their bodies. About a month later, the males begin to bellow, which starts the mating season. Females lay their eggs, which usually hatch in September, not long before the temperatures again cool and announce the coming of another long winter period in their burrows.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesAlligators and Caimans: Alligatoridae - Physical Characteristics, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction, Conservation Status, American Alligator (alligator Mississippiensis): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, CAIMANS ALLIGATORS AND PEOPLE