The Chinese alligator is a small, inconspicuous member of the alligator family. It grows to an average length of 5 ft (1.5 m), although 7 ft (2.1 m) is common. Chinese mythology records them as being 10 ft (3 m) in length, but this size has never been noted scientifically. Sexual dimorphism is present, with the males being larger than the females. They weigh up to 100 lbs (44.4 kg). Chinese alligators grow slowly, being only 2 ft (60 cm) long after 2 years of age.
Chinese alligators have the basic alligator appearance. They have a long snout that is slightly upturned and more tapered than the American alligator's. The body is long and stocky and is covered in hard scales. Two rows of bony ridges run along the length of the body and converge in the center of the tail, where they become one row. The legs are squat and the tail is long and powerful. The feet end in sharp claws, and the toes are not joined by webbing, unlike the American alligator. Another distinguishing feature from the American alligator, besides its small size, is the bony plates located on the upper eyelids.
The Chinese alligator is generally dark green to black in colour. The juveniles are black with bright yellow cross-branding, just like the American alligator. However, Chinese alligators have fewer. The scales on the belly are ossified (turned to bone).
Chinese alligators have long, sharp teeth ideal for crushing shells. The fourth lower tooth is larger than the rest. When the mouth is shut, the upper teeth lie outside of the lower teeth, which distinguishes alligators from crocodiles.
The Chinese alligator was at one time widely distributed throughout China, but today is restricted to the lower Yangtze River and some of its tributaries. They are currently found in the provinces of Jiangau, Zhejiang, and Anhui .
Chinese alligators prefer slow-moving freshwater and can be found in lakes, ponds, rivers, streams, swamps, and marshes. They live 333 ft (100 m) above sea level and hibernate 6-7 months of the year.
Chinese alligators can be beneficial to their environment because they dig holes known as "Gator Holes" which fill up with water. If the marsh ever dries up, the water remains in the holes and can support much of the water life until the marsh fills back up again. Gator holes also provide shelter for raccoons and other mammals. Chinese alligators also dig elaborate dens in which they hibernate. These dens average 75 ft (22.5 m) in length and contain one or more rooms as well as several breathing holes.
The Chinese alligator hunts mainly at night. They feed upon small invertebrates such as snails and mussels, as well as vertebrates such as fish, frogs, and rats. They rarely attack larger animals, unlike the American alligator.
The Chinese alligator is one of the world's rarest crocodilians, with only an estimated 300 left in the wild. They have few natural enemies, and are killed off mostly by humans. Habitat destruction is their main threat as they live in populated areas. Dams are major factors in this destruction. They are also hunted and killed by humans out of fear due to local mythology. Their hides are of little value as they are difficult to tan. However, the organs are sold on the black market to cure a number of ailments. Chinese alligators are a protected species in some parts, and are being raised in zoos across China, England, and America in an effort to increase their numbers.
Female Chinese alligators reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age. Nesting occurs between July and August, during which a small nest is made from decaying vegetation. The female lays 10-40 eggs, which hatch 70 days later.
There are 23 species of crocodilians located throughout the world, consisting of crocodiles, alligators, caimans, gavials, and false gavials. The American alligator is the only other alligator species.The good thing is that the