Chinese alligator

Chinese alligator

Chinese alligator information

The Chinese alligator, Alligator sinensis, is one of two known living species of alligator, the other one being the American alligator. The Chinese alligator is critically endangered and may vanish from the wild soon.

Chinese alligator taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Reptilia
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Alligatoridae
Genus:           Alligator
Species:         Alligatorsinensis

Chinese alligator conservation status

Alligator sinensis is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The estimated wild population consists of less than 200 individuals. In the past decade, very few nests have been found in the wild and even fewer have produced viable young.

The Chinese alligator is quite prolific in captivity and the estimated captive population exceeds 10,000 individuals. A majority of them lives in the Anhui Research Centre of Chinese Alligator Reproduction or in the Madras Crocodile Bank. Chinese alligators have also been successfully bred at several locations in Europe and North America.

The major cause of the decline of the Chinese crocodile is habitat destruction where wetlands have been turned into farmland. Dams, the poisoning of rats (which are then eaten by the alligator) and the intentional killing of alligators also create problems for the surviving specimens. Since alligators attack farmed ducks and cause drainage problems in fields by excavating burrows, they are not appreciated by Chinese farmers who usually kill them if given the opportunity. The organs can then be sold in local markets due to their alleged medical properties.  

The Chinese crocodile is legally protected by the Law of Wildlife Conservation of the People's Republic of China. Many of the reserves in which they remain are also protected.

The hide is of low commercial value since the ventral body scales are ossified, but the meat is quite valuable within China. Small quantities of meat from captive bred individuals are already sold to help fund local alligator management. The Chinese government is currently working to create new alligator habitat and reintroduce captive bred individuals to the wild.

Chinese alligator range

The Chinese alligator once range through much of China, but it is now restricted to a few areas around the Yangtze River, in the provinces Anhui, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. A majority of the remaining individuals live in the 433 km² reserve in Anhui.

Chinese alligator habitat

The Chinese alligator prefers freshwater habitats with slow-moving water, such as rivers, streams, swamps, ponds and lakes.

To avoid the climatic extremes, this northerly alligator species spends 6-7 months of the year hibernating in a burrow. Within a Chinese alligator burrow the temperature rarely falls below 10º C (50 º F).

Chinese alligator size and appearance

The Chinese alligator looks very similar to the more well-known American alligator, but is considerably smaller. The Chinese alligator weigh up to 100 lbs (44 kg) and rarely exceed 5 feet (1.5 meter) in lenght, even though occasional specimens have reached a length of 7 feet (2.1 meter). Reports of 10 feet (3 meter) individuals exist in Chinese historical literature, but such lengths are considered unlikely today considering the current situation of the species.

Another difference between the American and Chinese alligator is how the later one is fully armoured; even the belly is protected and the upper eyelids are covered with bony plates. The snout is more tapered than that of the American alligator and the teeth are more adapted for crushing shells since molluscs with hard shells make up a significant part of its diet. The Chinese alligator has 72-76 teeth, whereas the American alligator has 74-80 teeth.

Juveniles are black with bright yellow cross-banding. They look quite similar to American alligator juveniles but with fewer bands.

Chinese alligator feeding and diet

The Chinese alligator hunts chiefly during the summer season (April-October), spending the winter in its burrow. It is an opportunistic feeder that will kill and eat virtually any available prey small enough to overtake, but the bulk of its diet normally consists of aquatic snails, mussels and fish. It will however readily devour terrestrial animals as well if given the opportunity, e.g. rats and ducks. The Chinese alligator is predominantly a nocturnal hunter.

Chinese alligator breeding

The female Chinese alligator attains sexual maturity when she’s 4-5 years old. The breeding season coincides with the summer season and mound nests are constructed in July and August. The nests consist of plant material and are normally smaller than American alligator nests. The clutch size is also somewhat smaller, consisting of 10-50 eggs. The incubation time depends on temperature and will be roughly 70 days long at temperatures around 30° C (86° F).  

When the offspring is 2 years of age they will normally be around 60 cm (2 feet) long.

Chinese alligator facts

Chinese alligator facts # 1
The Chinese alligator is also known as T'o, Tou Lung, Yow Lung, Yangtze alligator, and China alligator. In Chinese, it is usually referred to as 揚子鱷.
Chinese alligator facts # 2
The scientific name Alligator sinensis means Alligator of China / Chinese alligator. The word alligator is derived from the Spanish el lagarto which means "the lizard", while the word sinensis comes from the Latin words sinae (Latin for "Chinese") + ensis (Latin for "belonging to").

Chinese alligator facts # 3
Compared to crocodillians such as the Saltwater crocodile and Nile crocodile, the Chinese alligator is a docile species that does not pose any serious threat to human life. It can however inflict painful wounds with its teeth.

Chinese alligator facts # 4
In Chinese restaurants, captive reared alligators are sometimes allowed to roam free until its time to devour them. To protect customers and staff, the mouths of the alligators are taped shut.

Chinese alligator facts # 5
According to traditional Chinese beliefs, eating alligator meat will cure colds and prevent cancer. The alligator is associated with the mythical Chinese dragon.

Chinese alligator lifespan

The Chinese alligator is expected to be able to reach atleast 70 years.


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