Alligators are pretty cool and scary. After all, how many other predators in the world are large enough to scare a human? Alligators are unique creatures that are often misclassified. This may leave you wondering what alligators are classified as, are they reptiles?
Alligators are reptiles, along with snakes, lizards, and turtles. But clearly, alligators have several features that set them aside from these other reptiles, making them a special type of reptile called Crocodylidae.
Ready to learn what makes alligators so special? Read on to find out more information about this unique creature and why it is considered a reptile.
Why Alligators Are Reptiles
Because alligators seem to be so out of place when placed next to other animals in the reptile family, many people wonder what makes an alligator a reptile.
Reptiles are creatures from the class Reptilia, and animals make it into this class by breathing air, having scales on all or part of their body, and engaging in a reproductive process that includes internal fertilization.
Additionally, these creatures have a skull that attaches to the first vertebra of the backbone, defining the way these creatures are able to hold their heads.
To join the class Reptilia, a creature must also be cold-blooded, which describes the alligator. Reptiles will also molt their skin a few times (or many times if referring to a snake) over the course of their lifetime. Because an alligator has all of these characteristics, it is most definitely considered a reptile.
How Alligators are Special Compared to Other Reptiles
Although alligators are grouped with the reptiles, there are many things unique about the alligator that cause them to be dived into an even smaller sub-group (also called an order) known as Crocodylidae.
Crocodilians are special because they have 4-chambered hearts, more closely resembling that of humans than other reptiles. Most reptiles have only a 3-chamber heart for regulating the reptile’s metabolism. This is what allows them to conserve energy when tough times hit.
But don’t worry because alligators s can still conserve energy in the same way as other reptiles. They do it via a special valve between their left and right aorta.
Why Alligators Are Reptiles and Not Amphibians
Amphibians are another class of animals that are very similar to reptiles. They both tend to live in tropical areas, are cold-blooded, and have backbones, so why are amphibians different than reptiles?
Reptile Vs Amphibian Life Cycle
First and foremost, the number one thing that sets these creatures apart is their life cycle. While both begin as eggs, amphibians lay eggs in the water that are fertilized after they leave the female’s body. Reptiles, on the other hand, fertilize the eggs inside the female’s body and then lay them.
The eggs are also different in their makeup. Amphibian eggs are jelly-like, lacking a hard protective coating. This means amphibians must stay close to the water because their eggs must be laid in water. Reptiles have eggs with a hard protective coating, and thus they can lay their eggs on land or in the water as they see fit. This allows them to live in more habitats.
When it is time for the eggs to hatch, out of the reptile eggs comes a miniature reptile, ready to grow and become an adult. For example, a baby alligator comes out of an alligator egg, and a baby snake comes out of a snake egg. But when amphibians hatch, they are a different creature that isn’t ready for adulthood.
The best example is a frog, which first hatches out of the egg as a tadpole. This tadpole must then do a whole lot of growing and changing before he becomes a frog. This change is called metamorphosis and only happens in amphibians.
Another way amphibians differ from reptiles is in the way they breathe. While most reptiles such as alligators depend on lungs to breathe just as humans do, amphibians rely on a gaseous exchange system that happens through their skin. This is why their skin must stay moist. This keeps amphibians living close to water.
If you thought the above gaseous skin breathing sounded strange, you should know this happens through a special skin type, further setting the reptiles apart from their amphibious counterparts. Reptiles have scales, and this does not allow them to do any gas exchange like an amphibian can do.
Type of Limbs
The type of limbs varies between amphibians and reptiles. Amphibians always have short forelimbs with longer hind legs. Their feet are always webbed, and they have five digits like humans. Reptiles, on the other hand, have a wide variation of limbs depending on the class.
Crocodiles and lizards have four legs like amphibians, while some reptiles, like snakes, have no limbs.
How They Defend Themselves
The final difference between and reptile and an amphibian is in how they defend themselves. It’s hard to imagine a frog biting anyone, and this is because they typically don’t. Amphibians can have different forms of defenses, from toxic skin secretions to camouflage. If they are supposed to bite, they usually have teeth that aren’t very sharp that can’t harm a human.
Reptiles are completely different, as they have both nails and teeth that are usually quite deadly. Some of them even have venom that they can use to poison and incapacitate prey. Their scales, while sometimes naturally camouflaged to the environment, typically don’t change color and serve as a natural defense from the environment.
Are All Crocodilians Reptiles?
Crocodilians refer to the species that are part of the order Crocodylia, a subsection of the Reptilia class. Because this label is a subsection of the larger Crocodylia class, this means that they are indeed all reptiles. Currently, there are 23 living Crocodylia species. An alligator is a crocodilian.
What is the Difference Between Alligators and Crocodiles?
In the present day, the words alligator and crocodiles are often used interchangeably. Though both crocodiles and alligators are reptiles, these animals are two completely different species. And you can easily tell them apart if you know what to look for.
You see a creature in the water that looks like a crocodile or alligator. Your first clue to knowing which family it belongs to is found in your mind. Think about where you are. If you are sailing in freshwater, you are probably looking at an alligator, as they prefer freshwater habitats.
But if you are sailing in salt or brackish water, then it is likely a crocodile. Of course, there are plenty of crocodiles in freshwater as well.
Your next clue to finding out the family of your mystery creature is to look at the color of its scales. Alligators are dark in color, most people calling them black or dark green, while crocodiles are grayish-green and overall lighter in color. Some crocodiles might even have a brownish coloration as well It is easier to see patterns like stripes on crocodiles than on alligators.
Maybe it’s too dark to see, and you aren’t sure where you are sailing. This means you’ll want to take a look at the snout. Alligators have a broad and somewhat rounded snout, while crocodiles have much narrower and triangular-looking snouts.
Hopefully, you aren’t close enough to check out the creature’s teeth you see in the water (especially if it is dark!) But if you can, for some reason, know that an Alligator’s large fourth teeth are hidden when the mouth is closed, so you shouldn’t be able to see them. If you’re looking at a crocodile, this tell-tale fourth tooth should be visible, even when the mouth is closed.
Either way, once you’ve identified whether you are looking at an alligator or a crocodile, it’s time to high-tail it out of there before you become dinner!
Alligators Are Reptiles Not Amphibians
Overall, alligators are a very interesting species that strikes fear into the hearts of many. Alligators are all reptiles, meaning they are cold-blooded and have certain characteristics that make them reptiles.
Reptiles are scaly, breathe with lungs, and go back and forth between land and the sea (which doesn’t quell your fear any). But remember that alligators aren’t out there hunting for humans to eat, so as long as you stay out of their way, chances are, they will stay out of yours.