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Chinese alligator

Scientific name: Alligator sinensis

CLASS: Reptilia
ORDER: Crocodilian
FAMILY: Alligatoridae

STATISTICS: Body Length: up to 6.5 ft., Weight: 50 to 90 lbs.

The Chinese alligator is a small crocodilian with a stocky body covered in hard scales on the back and softer scales on the sides and belly. It is dark green to black in color. Like all crocodilians, it has four toes on its back feet and five toes on its front feet, but only three of the five toes have claws. It has a long, thick tail used to help it move in the water.

Eastern China in a small area in the Yangtze River basin, along the Pacific coastline

River, streams, lakes, ponds, marshes, swamps, and adjacent land.

The Chinese alligator spends the winter hibernating in complex underground burrow systems and will emerge around May. The burrows are used throughout the year, but more so in the winter. They can be very elaborate and can house more than one alligator. When the alligator emerges in May, it will spend most of its time basking in the sun to raise its body temperature. It will also use water to help thermo regulate (warm or cool itself).

Mating season for Chinese alligators is normally around June, about a month after the rainy season has started. Males will make a bellow or roar to communicate their location and help find a mate. Both males and females have a musk gland under the lower jaw to produce an attractive scent. Males are polygynous, will mate with several females in one season, while females are only known to mate once per season.

Female Chinese alligators nest from July to August. During this time the female will build a mound-nest constructed of plant materials to incubate the 10-50 eggs she laid inside. The gender of the young is determined by the temperature inside the nest during incubation. Lower temperatures, below 28 degrees Celsius, will produce females while higher temperatures, above 33 degrees Celsius, will produce males. To produce an even number of both males and females, the nest needs to be at 31 degrees Celsius.

The females will guard the eggs from predators, and after about 70 days the eggs will hatch. The young weigh around one ounce and are nearly eight inches long. They grow rapidly in their first five years, and will reach sexual maturity at around five or seven years of age.


Prey to humans Predator of aquatic mollusks, fish, birds, and small mammals

WILD DIET: Snails, mussels, fish, water birds, small mammals.

STATUS: Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List and CITES Appendix I


  • Alligators have body language that they use to communicate. As a warning signal, they may snap their jaws. Or during mating, the female may rub up against the male to indicate she is ready to mate.
  • There are only two types of alligators in the world, the Chinese and the American. The Chinese alligator can be distinguished from the American alligator not only by size, but by its slightly upturned and more tapered snout and by the bony plates on each upper eyelid.
  • In China this species is sometimes called Yow-Lung or T’o, meaning “dragon.” Some researchers believe the mythical Chinese dragon was the Chinese alligator.


  1. IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. June 2008.
  2. CITES Species Data Base. June 2008.


Published: October 2008

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