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Friday, June 6, 2014

Species Fact Profile: Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis)

Chinese Alligator
Alligator sinensis (Fauvel, 1879)

Range: Eastern China
Habitat: Wetlands, Ponds, Rivers
Diet: Aquatic Mollusks, Fish, Waterfowl, Small Mammals
Social Grouping: Solitary, Female with Hatchlings
Reproduction: Males are polygynous, mate in June (after start of the rainy season), nesting occurs from July through August, 10-50 eggs laid in mound-like nest constructed of plant material, incubation period of 70 days, sexual maturity reached at 4-5 years
Lifespan: 50 Years (Wild), 70 Years (Captivity)
Conservation Status: IUCN Critically Endangered, CITES Appendix I

  • One of the smallest crocodilians at 2 meters long (possible that it once grew larger), weighing 40 kilograms.  Besides smaller size, differs from American alligator in upturned snout and more extensive armoring (including the belly and the bony eyelids)
  • Dark green-brown scales; juveniles are black with bright yellow bands
  • Females provide parental care for eggs, helping hatchlings escape the shell and carrying young to water; females may share a burrow with their young for their first winter
  • Very cryptic species - primarily active at night and spending 6-7 months of the year hibernating in underground burrows, emerging in late spring to bask
  • Once found throughout eastern China (and possibly Korea, based on ancient texts), now limited to a few agricultural pools within protected areas; reintroduction efforts hope to establish the species in parts of its former range (the captive population is thriving within China and around the world - the challenge is finding suitable sites for reintroduction)
  • Habitat loss is main threat to species, sometimes persecuted by humans due to occasionally predation on small domestic animals; skin is not considered commercially valuable in leather trade
  • Known as "the muddy dragon" in Chinese folklore, Chinese alligators were considered a possible inspiration for the Chinese dragon - associated with storms, rains, and flooding; Marco Polo described them in his writings
  • Only member of the alligator family (Alligatoridae) found outside of the Americas

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