The American alligator was designated as the official state reptile of Florida in 1987. Alligator comes from the Spanish "el lagarto" (the lizard). The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is native to the Southeastern United States. Alligators construct burrows, or "alligator holes" for shelter and hibernation.
Alligators are an important part of their ecosystem - they control the population of prey species, create peat through their nesting activities, and benefit several other species with 'alligator holes' and nests (including the Florida Red-bellied turtle which incubates its own eggs there).
After surviving nearly unchanged since the time of the dinosaurs, and having virtually no natural predators as adults today, alligators were headed for extinction only 20 years ago due to intense hunting from man. Protecting the species and alligator habitats has allowed the status to be changed from endangered to threatened.
A typical male reaches 13-14 feet in length and can weigh over 600 pounds (there are unconfirmed reports of alligators over 16 feet). Immature alligators have yellow cross-bands on a black background for camouflage. Adults can be long and thin or short and stocky.