The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), the largest reptile in North America, is also known as the state reptile of Louisiana. Ancestors of the American alligator appeared nearly 160 million years ago. Alligators are cold-blooded, and their body temperature is regulated by the environment around them. There are approximately 2 million wild alligators in the state of Louisiana. Alligators can be spotted in ponds, lakes, bayous, rivers, swamps, and even occasionally swimming pools near these coastal areas in the dry months. The highest populations of alligators within Louisiana are found in coastal marshes. Coastal marshes account for about 3 million acres of alligator habitat in Louisiana.
Alligators are predators in the wetland ecosystem. Young alligators typically feed on small animals such as crawfish, insects, small fish, and frogs. An adult alligator’s diet consists of crabs, turtles, nutria, large birds, and sometimes deer. Alligators assist in population control and support diversity in the environment. During nest construction, alligators dig burrows with their tails in peat, a boggy type of soil, which often facilitates plant growth. The burrows become “alligator holes”, or wetland depressions, which serve as a breeding area to many species other than alligators during dry periods. Alligators are key contributors to the diversity and productivity of coastal wetlands.
Animal diversity in the wetland biome is greater than in any other biome type.
Wetland biomes are the perfect place for a variety of plants and animals to thrive due to the climate, food availability, and shelter provided. Amphibians and reptiles do particularly well in this environment. Some reptiles, such as turtles, need wetlands because they either live in water for much of their lives or largely rely on water for their survival. Wetlands support a variety of animals that provide plentiful food sources for reptiles. Snakes spend time around rivers and wetlands where there are food sources such as frogs and bird eggs.
Other species that populate the wetland biome are birds. Wetlands are an important habitat for birds that are breeding, nesting, and rearing young, and some bird species, stop to feed in wetlands along their migration route. The value of a wetland to a specific bird species is dependent upon the presence of surface water and the duration and timing of flooding, for example great egrets may nest in trees above water for protection from predators. The geographic location of a wetland also determines how and when birds will use it.
Alligators and crocodiles are the largest animals found in the wetland biome. The type of water found will strongly affect the types of life that survive there. When salt is present in the water, you might find shrimp and shellfish which are some of the smallest wetland animals.
Crawfish in defensive posture with claws extended, “Secret Bird Pond”, Trinity River Audubon Center, Dallas, Texas, USA.
Known as living dinosaurs, alligators first appeared on Earth approximately 37 million years ago. Although there are two species of alligator, the American Alligator and the Chinese Alligator, it is the American Alligator, the largest reptile in the United States, that inhabits Louisiana as the state reptile.
Alligators of Louisiana call the coastal wetlands their home. A predator in the wetland ecosystem, alligators assist in population control; however, alligators also support diversity and shelter of other species in the environment. During nest construction, alligators dig burrows with their tails resulting in the creation of peat- a boggy type of soil- which often facilitates plant growth. Furthermore, the burrows become ‘alligator holes’, or wetland depressions, which become a home or breeding area to many species other than alligators during dry periods. Alligators are considered a keystone species in the coastal wetlands environment; without alligators, the diversity and productivity of coastal wetlands would decrease.