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The Chinese Alligator
_A.sinensis_ stretches out on the beach
(Alligator sinensis)


Appearance Size Distribution Habitat Diet Hunting Reproduction Dangers to Humans



The Chinese alligator is the smallest of the alligators and is a shy and secretive creature. Two characteristics that don't make for easy observations.

Appearance

Chinese Alligators differ from American Alligators in a couple ways. For one Chinese alligators have a more robust snout that is slightly upturned and tapered. The eyelids have a bony plate in them which A.mississippiensis lacks. Chinese gators have osteoderms on their bellies, which seems to be a charachteristic of little crocodylians.

The coloration of Chinese gators is fairly similiar to that of American alligators also. Chinese gators are generally a more lighter yellower color than American gators and don't have as many yellow crossbands on the tail and body.

Size

Alligator sinensis is a smaller version of A.mississippiensis and attains a maximum length of about 2 meters (6.5 feet). Early Chinese literature talked about these animals reaching lengths in upwards of 3.25 meters (about 10ft), but as usual with folklore, the animals are smaller than the legends.

Distribution

This little gator has a very restricted distribution. It is known only from the lower Yangtze River and its tributaries. Their original range was no doubt greater, but stresses from agriculture and development have destroyed much of their prime habitat leaving these poor guys in the same position as Gavialis gangeticus in terms of endangernment.

Habitat

These animals are found in marshland areas along with ponds and lakes. A.sinensis is also known to make extensive use of caves and burrows. This is particularly true during the colder times of the year. Chinese alligators have the most northerly range of all crocodylians and therefore must deal with the coldest temperatures.

Diet

The teeth of A.sinensis are adapted to crushing hard objects and not for stabbing and grabbing like other crocodylians. This makes sense when taking into account it's diet which consists of snails, clams, rats and insects.

Hunting

These little guys are accomplished shell crushers and no doubt forage along the rivers and ponds in search of little crustaceans and gastropods to eat. They might also hunt on land for insects and small animals. In the cases of rats a land hunter would make much more sense. The typical crocodylian ambushing techniques can't work here so these guys must employ a different strategy. Possibly paralleling that of Varanus komodoensis in hunting strategy.

Or it is possible that these little gators actively seek out the burrows of rats and not only kill and eat them, but also steal and expand on their burrows.

Unfortunately due to their shy nature and limited range, data on these little crocodylians is few and far between.

Reproduction

Not much is known about reproduction in this species. It is believed that mating season is around June and the males might go through smaller versions of the territorial displays used by their larger cousins the American alligators.

After copulation the females will build mound nests of vegetation much like that of A.mississippiensis only on a smaller scale. The nests is then guarded by the female (and possibly the male) for the month or two of incubation. Afterwards babies would be taken to the water and placed in special nursery pools where they would grow up under their parent's care.

It's hard to say what else might happen, for actual reproduction and child rearing has been rarely observed in the field. It is possible that the parents take their young into the caves or burrows with them. Hunting style would also be different and we don't know how baby A.sinensis hunt. They are one of the many crocodylians that we could use more info on.

Dangers to Humans

At only 2 meters long and with blunt shell crushing teeth, Chinese alligators pose no threat whatsoever to humans. On the other hand humans pose a huge threat to them. With their already limited range and shy nature, we must be careful not to overlook the Chinese alligator or it could one day disappear for good :(


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