African American Military History Museum Hattiesburg Zoo Hattiesburg Saenger

Mississippi Alligators

By: Jeremy Cumpton, Associate Keeper
published Tue May 20, 2014

With the weather warming up everyone is getting their groove back, especially our American alligators! During the winter alligators will go through brumation, which is similar to hibernation but not as severe. During this time they rarely move out of the water. But now, these apex predators are becoming more and more active during the day, which means that feeding time is just around the corner and you will be able to start watching them munch down on some delicious delicacies such as raw chicken, YUM!

Alligators are cold-blooded and therefore do not require as much food as you or I do to stay alive. In fact, these guy and girls can go over 6 months without food! Now, I don’t know about you but I am starving after 6 hours without a snack. In addition to our feeding them, these alligators can chow down on some excellent fish and turtles that coexist with them in their exhibit.

Many of us may be too young to remember, but in 1967 American alligators were labeled as an endangered species due to people hunting them to near extinction for their hides and their meat. However, all the hard work that was put into saving these wonderful creatures paid off in 1987 when the United States Fish and Wildlife Service found that the species had fully recovered. The alligator’s recovery serves as inspiration that it is never too late to save a species we have endangered.

There are a few things to look for while seeing these guys. First, if you happen to see just the head of one sticking out from their island, do not do like me and scream like a little girl! All is ok. Our female alligator ‘Little Girl’ has dug a burrow into the side of their island so she can keep an eye on all of us while we can only see part of her. Second, if you are lucky enough to see them up on land, take a look at their legs. The front legs of American alligators have 5 toes but the back ones only have 4! Third, we have lots of people who ask us how we can tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile and I always tell them to look at the gator’s smile. If his or her mouth is closed you will only be able to see the teeth on the top jaw pointing down.  Finally, as a general rule of thumb, an alligator will have a U-shape to their snouts while crocodiles tend to have a V-shape.