​The Largest Alligator Ever Measured

Alligators can often reach at least 14 or 15 feet in length, which is even larger than some crocodile species, but not all of them, especially not the Saltwater Crocodile (I am talking about the American alligator – A. mississippiensis here, the Chinese alligator – A. sinensis is much smaller). But what is the largest alligator ever measured?

There are two candidates:

The Alabama Alligator (The Stokes Alligator) – 15 feet and 9 inches (4.8 meters)

Five members of the Stokes family captured and killed a giant alligator at the Alabama River on August 16, 2014, which measured 15 feet and 9 inches long and weighed 1,011.5 pounds (~458.8 kg). Most sources pick this one as the largest alligator ever recorded. It can be viewed in the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum, Montgomery. Mandy Stokes, who shot dead the animal, has said the alligator was 24 – 28 years old, which was determined from an analysis of its leg bone.

Stokes Alligator, Alabama - the largest alligator ever recorded
The Stokes alligator, which measured 15 feet and 9 inches long and weighed 1,011.5 pounds (~458.8 kg) is in display at the Mann Wildlife Learning Museum in Montgomery, Alabama.

The Louisiana Alligator – 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 meters) ?

According to wikipedia, and the open source encyclopedia cites alligatorfur.com, the largest alligator ever was taken on Marsh Island, Louisiana and was 19 feet 2 inches (5.84 meters). Unfortunately, there’s no photo of the beast. So I have doubts if it’s true.

Update April 6, 2016: The Florida farm alligator

In Florida, hunters shot a 15-feet (4.57 meters) and 800 pound (362.8 kg) alligator. The gator was reportedly terrorizing and eating cattle on a Florida farm. Definitely not the largest ever, but it’s worth to mention it here.

Florida 15-feet alligator
Florida 15-feet alligator. It looks much bigger in the photo because they used the forced perspective technique here.

What’s the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

An alligator is also a crocodilian in the genus Alligator of the family Alligatoridae. So the two creatures share many similarities. But what are the real differences between them? This is probably the most frequently asked question when it comes to crocodilians.

The shape of the head (jaw): this is the most obvious difference between a crocodile and an alligator. Crocodiles have a longer, more V-shaped head then alligators. Look at their noses: alligators (and caimans) have a wide “U”-shaped, rounded snout (like a shovel), whereas crocodiles tend to have longer and more pointed “V”-shaped noses.

Alligator and Crocodile heads
Alligator and Crocodile heads. The left one is an alligator, and the right one is a crocodile. Photo: animalsunlimited.co.uk

The broad snout of alligators is designed for strength, capable of withstanding the stress caused to the bone when massive force is applied to crack open turtles and hard-shelled invertebrates which form part of their diet. Of course, alligators eat softer prey too, but hard-shelled prey are ubiquitous in their environment and it’s a big advantage to be able to eat them. Conversely, the pointed snout of a crocodile looks not quite as strong as the alligatorine shape, but the crocodile is still capable of exerting massive biting power, even more than alligators. Crocodile jaws can be thought of as being more generalized – ideal for a wide variety of prey. The full extent of the way jaw shape influences diet isn’t particularly well studied in crocodilians, but it’s obvious that a very thin nose like a gharial’s is much better at dealing with a fish than a turtle. The Indian Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris), however, breaks this general rule as its jaws are superficially very similar in shape to those of an Alligator, that said other characteristics mark it as a Crocodile, for example, it’s teeth (see the placement of teeth below).

Despite alligator jaws seem more strong, the crocodile jaws are stronger. They beat all creatures whose bites have been evaluated, in fact. Paleobiologist Gregory M. Erickson and colleagues put all 23 living crocodilian species through an unprecedented bite test. The “winners”—saltwater crocodiles—slammed their jaws shut with 3,700 pounds per square inch (psi), or 16,460 newtons, of bite force (this is far more powerful than even the strongest bite force of the carnivore land mammals). And while a 2008 computer model estimated that a 21-foot (6.5-meter) great white shark would produce nearly 4,000 psi (17,790 newtons) of bite force, that figure hasn’t been directly measured. Read the full story on nationalgeographic.com.

Placement of teeth: in alligators, the upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw and completely overlaps it. Therefore, the teeth in the lower jaw are almost completely hidden when the mouth closes, fitting neatly into small depressions or sockets in the upper jaw. This is particularly apparent with the large fourth tooth in the lower jaw. In crocodiles, the upper jaw and lower jaw are approximately the same width and so teeth in the lower jaw fit along the margin of the upper jaw when the mouth is closed. Therefore, the upper teeth interlock (and “interdigitate”) with the lower teeth when the mouth shuts. As the large fourth tooth in the lower jaw also fits outside the upper jaw, there is a well-defined constriction in the upper jaw behind the nostrils to accommodate it when the mouth is closed. The fourth tooth of a crocodile sticks out when its mouth is closed.

Alligator and Crocodile - teeth placement
Alligator and Crocodile – teeth placement

Alligators strongly favor freshwater while some species of crocodile live in seawater. Both Alligators and Crocodiles have glands on their tongues that help cope with high salt content in water, only the Crocodiles gland appears to function, or function effectively. This fact means Crocodiles are far more likely to be found in saltwater, than Alligators. Alligator species, of which there are two, are restricted geographically to the southeast of the United States of America, the American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) and the Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis) in the Yangtzee River in China. Caiman species are found in Central and South America, while the Gharial (Gavialis gangeticus) is native to India.

Crocodile species have a far wider range, living throughout the tropical waters of Africa, Asia the Americas and Australia. Most people regard crocodiles as more aggressive than alligators, and this is true of some species. For example, alligators are relatively docile next to saltwater crocodiles, but there are many species with many different kinds of behaviors and temperaments. A general rule that crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators just isn’t possible to make.


8 thoughts on “​The Largest Alligator Ever Measured”

      1. For all those concerned about these poor dead alligators think about this. I’m the south alligators diminish the stocking ratios of farmers who raise the crops you eat. You will starve, even vegetarians, if these animals aren’t managed and destroyed. In Florida the biggest farce is that the American Alligator is on the endangered species list. They are invasive and over populated beyond comprehension.

        I, personally, a military vet, lost my service dog to an alligator attack. It would have been a federal crime for the gator to be destroyed. Which it should have been. However, as a law abiding citizen bound to protect our country that alligator remains in what is now named Hoopers Pond. RIP pal. You were the best.

        I don’t want to attack animal rights folks but you must think bigger picture. Those same gators kill calves and other livestock. The American Alligator enjoys more freedom that the citizens do.

        While we overreact to animal populations we just blow the ecosystem apart.

        We began seeing animals as people. We began replacing common sense and logic behind feelings. We have to reason these problems not “feel” our way through them.

  1. Wikipedia also cites this as a source for the 5.94 m long alligator: Wood, Gerald (1983). The Guinness Book of Animal Facts and Feats. p. 256. ISBN 978-0-85112-235-9.

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