1. What Is an Alligator?


This is the first of 12 Things You Should Know about Alligators and Everglades Wildlife, a free eBook.

Before we dive into all of the fun and interesting facts about alligators, we thought we should begin by describing exactly what these amazing creatures are.

An alligator is a reptile in the Alligator genus. The genus is part of a larger order called Crocodylia, which includes crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials.

The English word alligator comes from the Spanish el lagarto, which means “the lizard.” It was named by early Spanish explorers and settlers in Florida.

There are two living alligator species: the American alligator and the Chinese alligator. On your Florida Everglades tour, if you spot an alligator, it will be the American species, so that’s what we’ll be focusing on. You can find the American alligator in southern states like Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Louisiana.

Alligators are the closest living relatives to birds

Did you know that the basic Crocodylia body form has been around for hundreds of millions of years? About 250 million years ago alligators and birds shared a common ancestor. Some of those ancestor’s descendants became dinosaurs and then modern birds, while others became modern crocodiles and alligators.

What does that mean? It means alligators are more closely related to birds than they are to other reptiles like snakes, lizards and turtles!

Birds, not alligators, are modern dinosaurs

Birds are direct descendants of dinosaurs, whereas alligators are more like very distant cousins. So if you want to tell your friends you ate a dinosaur, don’t order the gator tail, order the chicken salad!