8 Seemingly Unknown Facts About Florida’s Largest Reptile

American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) are one of the most iconic animals in Florida. These massive reptiles can be found in all 67 counties of the state and are a common sight in many freshwater environments, including lakes, rivers, swamps, and brackish waters. While alligators may seem intimidating at first glance, these apex predators are actually quite shy and avoid humans if possible—we’re not their natural prey. And with that, here are eight facts about alligators that will surprise you!

alligator in the wild

Alligators are Remarkable Survivors
Alligators are native to Florida, and fossil evidence shows they have remained relatively unchanged for the past 8 million years and are closely related to dinosaurs.

Alligators are Florida’s Official State Reptile
The American alligator was designated as Florida’s official state reptile in 1987 as a symbol of the state’s untamed wilderness.

Alligators Courtships are Sophisticated
During mating season, from late April to early June, males’ infrasonic bellows cause the surface of the water around the male to ripple and dance, which attracts the female.

Alligators Have Super Senses
Extrasensory organs cover alligators’ faces. This makes it possible for alligators to hear hatchlings squeak from inside their eggs and smell a single drop of blood in 10 gallons of water.

Alligators are Reptiles (Sort Of!)
Scientifically speaking, alligators are reptiles—but they’re also archosaurs, which includes alligators, crocodiles, and birds. So technically speaking, birds are closer relatives to alligators than snakes or lizards.

Alligators Create Habitats for Smaller Animals
Gators make nests for themselves in soft mud that eventually fills with water. These “alligator puddles” protect and house all sorts of small reptiles and fish while also serving as a drinking hole.

Alligators’ Sex is Determined by Temperature
Laboratory studies have found that eggs exposed to temperatures above 93°F are likely to become males, while those at 86°F usually become females—and intermediate temperatures produce both sexes.

Alligator Attacks are Extremely Rare
Despite their reputation as fearsome predators, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be attacked by an alligator!

As you can see, there’s much to learn about American alligators. Park rangers at Grayton State Park and Topsail Hill Preserve State Park often give informational presentations about alligators throughout the summer.