The American alligator has a large, slightly rounded body, with thick limbs, a broad head, and a very powerful tail. Males can weigh anywhere from 500 to over 1000 pounds. One American alligator allegedly reached a length of 19 feet, 2 inches, which would make it the largest recorded. A more common size is 12 to 14.5 feet. The tail, which accounts for half of the alligator's total length, is primarily used for aquatic propulsion. The tail can also be used as a weapon of defense when an alligator feels threatened. Alligators travel very quickly in water, are generally slow-moving on land, and can lunge short distances very quickly.
Alligators live in wetlands, and it is this vital habitat that holds the key to their continued long-term survival. Alligators depend on the wetlands, and in some ways the wetlands depend on them. As predators at the top of the food chain, they help control the population of rodents and other animals that might overtax the marshland vegetation.