Category: SWAMP


Kingdom:  Animalia
Phylum: Chordata  (presence of a notochord (an internal skeletal rod that provides support) during some stage of the animal’s development).
Class: Reptilia (snakes, worm lizards, lizards, alligators, caimans, crocodiles, tortoises, turtles, and tuataras).
Order: Crocodylia (crocodiles, alligators, caimans and the gharial)
Family:  Alligatoridae (Alligators and Caimans).

 Genus/species:   Alligator mississippiensis

American Alligator 8273409677_0914c84c2e_b


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The average adult size for a female is 2.6 m (8.2) and for males is 3.4 m (11.2 ft).  Exceptionally large males can weigh over 450 kg (1000 pounds). They have muscular laterally flattened tails for propulsion and defense.  Dorsally their skin is armored bony plates called osteoderms and scutes.  They have four short legs with five toes on the front and four on the back.  The snout is broad with upper facing nostrils to aid in breathing while major portion of the body is under water. 

 Differences between alligators and crocodiles:

1. Alligators tend to have wide, U-shaped, rounded snouts, while crocodiles tend to have longer, more pointed, V-shaped snouts.

 2. The large lower fourth tooth of an alligator fits into a socket in the upper jaw and is not seen when the mouth is closed, whereas in crocodiles this tooth is visible.

3. Alligators live in freshwater; crocodiles tend to inhabit salt water. 4. On average alligators are smaller than crocodiles

Alligators have between 74 and 80 teeth, which are replaced as they wear down; an alligator can go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.

The average alligator adult size for a female is 2.6 m (8.2 ft) and for males is 3.4 m (11.2 ft). Exceptionally large males can weigh over 450 kg (1000 pounds). 

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Southeastern United States, from North Carolina to the Rio Grande in Texas.   Usually found in freshwater, especially in slow-moving rivers. They are also found in swamps, marshes, and lakes. They can tolerate salt water only briefly. They dig “gator holes” for use during low water periods in the summer.


DIET IN THE WILD: Alligators eat almost anything, but primarily consume fish, birds, turtles, mammals and amphibians.

Alligators spin on their long axis to rip off bite sized portions small enough to swallow when eating large animals such as deer.

Since they are ectothermic their need for food is decreased allowing them to survive without food for up to 3 years.

They are a mild threat to humans with approximately one death every 5 years reported between 1973-1990.



ACADEMY DIET: They usually consume about rodents and chickens three times per week which containing vitamins.

REPRODUCTION: The temperature at which American alligator eggs develop determines their sex. Eggs which are hatched at 90 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit become males, while those at 82 to 86 degrees fahrenheit become females. Intermediate temperature ranges yield a mix of both male and females. The hatchings grow rapidly, averaging over 1 foot of growth for each year of life. Both sexes reach sexual maturity at around 6 feet in length.

LONGEVITY: Wild: 35 to 50 years, captivity: 65 to 80 years.

CONSERVATION: Not listed by the IUCN with limited hunting allowed in some states.

REMARKS: The Academy has one white pink-eyed albino alligator born 9-15-1995.
Recent Claude stats

9-15-18 Claude 23 years old
2010 length 2.6m (8.5 feet), weigh 82 kg (181 pounds).
6-10-12 length 9.0 feet, weight 190 pounds.
6-10-13 length 3 meters or 9.5 feet, weight 100+ kg or 222 pounds.
He may be started on a weight reduction diet because he is a “bit chubby” according to Freeland Dunker staff veterinarian. The albino gene is recessive. Claud’s vision is impaired because of lack of pigment which protects the eye from ultraviolet rays of the sun.
Leucistic alligators are also white but have normal eye color thus are not albinos.

Color of Life note Color Conceals:
White alligators are prime example of what happens when color does not conceal. Albinism (total lack of pigment) results from a genetic change which puts the alligators at great risk because they are easy to spot by predators in their environment. Ref. California Academy of Sciences Color of Life Exhibit 2015



California Academy of Sciences Swamp 2019

Encyclopedia of Life

Audubon Institute


IUCN Red List (September, 2009)

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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
Order: Lepisosteiformes (Gars) 
Family; Lepisosteidae (Gars)

Genus/species: Atractosteus spatula

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Alligator-like. Large size and broad, short, wide, blunt snout and a heterocercal tail. Color is dark olivaceous brown above and white to yellowish beneath with dark brown blotches on all fins. Body is covered with armor-like ganoid scales consisting of diamond-shaped, interlocking, and extremely hard bony plates covered with layers of dentine and enamel. Head protected by bony plates. Alligator gars have two rows of teeth, a longer one on the palate, and an outer row in the jaw, enabling them to pierce and hold prey. A. spatula is the largest exclusively freshwater fish found in North America.

Alligator gar are the largest gar species. with a length up to than 3 m (9.8 ft), weight to 137 kg (300 pounds).

Alligator Gar 8362889461_f8706ce1f4_b

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Alligator Gar are found in lakes, rivers, and bayous from the Mississippi to the Gulf coast in fresh and brackish water.


DIET IN THE WILD: They are opportunistic carnivores and sit-and-wait predators. They appear to be sluggish, but can ambush prey with short bursts of speed feeding on almost anything, including fish, ducks, turtles, small mammals, and carrion

REPRODUCTION: Females reach sexual maturity at 11 years. Eggs laid on aquatic vegetation, to which they adhere. Young cling to the stems with an adhesive disc on their head until yolk sac is absorbed, and then swim actively. Juveniles feed on plankton, invertebrates, amphibians, and fish before transitioning to fish almost exclusively.
The eggs of alligator gar are bright red and poisonous to humans if ingested.

MORTALITY: Females generally larger and longer lived than males. Some may live to 50 years or more in the wild, 80 years in captivity. The Academies oldest gars are in their 60s.

CONSERVATION STATUS: Not on IUCN Red List. Pollution and degradation of habitat threaten this species.

alligator garIMG_2863


REMARKS: Gars also have a highly vascularized swim bladder directly connected to its throat that enables them to breathe in air, an adaptation to life in water with low oxygen levels. Native Americans used armor-like ganoid scales as arrowheads and jewelry. Early American farmers used the scales on the blades of their plows.

The fossil record traces their existence to the Early Cretaceous over a hundred million years ago.there is no documentation of attacks on man by alligator gars.

There is no documentation of an attack on man by alligator gars.


California Academy of Sciences Steinhart Aquarium Swamp 2018

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6-7-13, 1-19-17, 10-9-18

Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Actinopterygii (ray-finned fishes)
Order: Lepisosteiformes (Gars)
Family: Lepisosteidae (Gars)

Genus/species: Lepisosteus oculatus


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: The smallest of the four species of gar. Weight to 4.4 kg.(9.7 pounds), maximum recorded for wild fish is 44.8″ (112cm). Body long and cylindrical with elongated mouths. colored dark olive to brown above. L. oculatus has thick, ganoid (diamond-shaped) scales. All fins with dark spots; belly whitish; snout short.

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Lake Erie and south Lake Michigan drainages; Mississippi River drainage from Illinois south to East Oklahoma, East Tennessee; Gulf Coast streams from West Florida to Central Texas. Found in clear pools with aquatic plants in streams, swamps and lakes; may enter brackish water on the Gulf Coast.

DIET IN THE WILD: Voracious predator with an elongated mouth with many teeth feeding on fishes and benthic crustaceans.

Spotted Gar IMG_1369

REPRODUCTION: Spawns between the months of May and July. Eggs are simply scattered among aquatic vegetation, and no parental care is exhibited. The roe (or egg mass) is highly toxic to humans, animals, and birds.

PREDATORS: Eaten by larger fish, alligators and herons.

LONGEVITY: Live to at least 18 years.  

CONSERVATION: Not evaluated by the IUCN. Not in need of special conservation efforts.


REMARKS: Have a specialized swim bladder which allows them to gulp air and live in the poorly oxygenated back waters.

They are primitive fish and date back to the Cretaceous period, some 65 to 100 million years ago. The ancestors of spotted gar swam with the dinosaurs.

Water Planet Feeding Cluster WP31

Swamp SW02


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Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Amphibia
Order: Anura
Family: Hylidae

Genus/species: Hyla cinerea


GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS: Bright yellow-green above, though some are reddish-brown to green, often with small golden spots. White to cream below with a prominent white lateral stripe
on each side.  Up to 6 cm (2.5 in) long.

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Central to Southeastern United States. North to Virginia’s eastern shore, south to the southern tip of Florida, west to central Texas. Habitat: Forest habitats in small ponds, large lakes, marshes, and streams, especially in richly vegetated areas.

Green Treefrog  8593645003_ef71a3137d_o

DIET IN THE WILD: Insectivores: flies, mosquitoes, and other small insects

PREDATORS: Predators include snakes, birds, large fish, and other frogs. Predatory aquatic insects such as giant water bugs may take tadpoles. Green frogs in captivity are known to live as long as 6 years.

REMARKS: Active at night. During the day, adults are well camouflaged among grasses and other vegetation, especially when legs are tucked below the body and eyes are closed.


Swamp SW07


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KINGDOM  Animalia

PHYLUM    Chordata

CLASS    Reptilia

ORDER    Testudines

FAMILY    Chelydridae  (Snapping Turtles)

GENUS/SPECIES  Macrochelys temminckii



Largest freshwater turtle in the world weighing 70-80 kg (155-175 lb) with a shell length up to 79 cm (32 in). Their  big head can be over 9 in wide with three ridge keels on the broad carapace rising to knobby keels. They usually have algae covering their backs since they spend most of their time under water coming to the surface sometimes as little as 50 min between breaths.

The largest individual turtle in the exhibit is over 55 kgs (121) pounds. The rest are likely ~45 kg (100 pounds)



Southeastern United States in primarily quiet, muddy freshwater rivers, streams, lakes and ponds that drain into  the Gulf of Mexico. Females leave water only to deposit eggs and male occasionally will bask in the sun.



Lie-in-wait predator. Rests on substrate with its mouth open and lures fish to its mouth with a movable, pink wormlike tongue appendage. Also takes crayfish, crabs, snails, freshwater mussels, salamanders, snakes, very small alligators, small mammals, water birds, briar roots, wild grapes, acorns, and scavenges as well.  



They are fed cut trout 2-3 times per week.



Males climb onto the female’s carapace from behind. As in all reptiles, fertilization is internal. Female’s terrestrial nest is approximately within 50m (160 ft). of water. A single clutch of 8-52 eggs (35 average) is laid per year with a 3.5 to 4.5 month incubation period.  Warm and low incubation temperatures result in all female neonates. Intermediate incubation temperatures produce mostly males.  They mature in 11-13 years and can live to 70 years of age in captivity.


Swamp SW02




PHYLUM    Chordata

CLASS        Actinopterygii   (ray-finned fishes)

ORDER    Perciformes   (Perch-likes)

FAMILY   Cichlidae (Cichlids)

GENUS/SPECIES    Parachromis (Nandopsis) managuensis



Body has a light background with black markings all over; series of large black spots on along the sides.   Males will constantly dig and defend their territory. They will usually have brighter coloring to the body than females.    Size:  32.5–35 cm (13–14 in).



Central America: Honduras to Costa Rica preferring lakes, with  turbid warm water depleted of oxygen. Likes mud bottoms but also found in springs and ponds over detritus and sand bottoms.    



Small fishes and invertebrates; a voracious predator that makes a meal of any fish small enough to fit into its unusually large mouth.           


Swamp SW02





Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Subphylum: Vertebrata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Squamata
Suborder: Serpentes
Family: Viperidae

Genus/species: Crotalus horridus

GENERAL CHARACTERISTICS:  Average length of 91–152 cm (35.8-59.8 in). Dorsally they have a pattern of dark brown or black cross-bands on a yellowish brown or grayish background and an irregular zig-zag edges, and may be V-shaped or M-shaped. Often a rust-colored vertebral stripe is present.

DISTRIBUTION/HABITAT: Eastern United States from southern Minnesota and southern New Hampshire, south to east Texas and north Florida in deciduous forests in rugged terrain. 

DIET IN THE WILD: Prey is mainly small mammals, but may include small birds, frogs, or other snakes usually garter snakes.

REMARKS: Potentially, this is one of North America’s most dangerous snakes, due to its long fangs, impressive size and high venom yield. This is to some degree offset by its relatively mild disposition. Before striking, they often do a good deal of preliminary rattling and feinting.



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