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The largest reptile in North America, the iconic American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is considered to be a living fossil, having survived on Earth in the same form for 200 million years. The name ‘alligator’ derives from the Spanish ‘el lagarto’ meaning ‘the lizard’, while the species name means ‘of the Mississippi’. Though often confused with various crocodile species, the American alligator can be distinguished by its rounded snout, and by the fact that when the jaws are closed, none of the lower teeth are visible. The body is armoured with thick scales, and bears a long, powerful tail, as well as sturdy limbs with webbed toes, which help to propel this species through the water. The eyes and snout are positioned on the top of the head, enabling the American alligator to breathe and watch for prey, while the rest of the body is submerged. This concealment is further enhanced by the colouration of the body, which is uniform black or olive-brown in the adult, with younger specimens possessing yellow banding across the body and tail. The American alligator’s jaws contain between 74 and 80 sharp, conical teeth, and are capable of delivering massive bite forces.



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