American alligators once faced extinction. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service placed them on the endangered species list in 1967. Fortunately, the legal protection worked.

Just 20 years later, American alligators were taken off the list. Brought back from the brink of extinction, over a million of these reptiles survive today. 

Now the main threat to alligators is habitat destruction, caused by such human activities as draining and developing wetlands.

American alligators live in the wild in the southeastern United States. You're most likely to spot them in Florida and Louisiana, where they live in rivers, lakes, ponds, swamps, bayous, and marshes. 

These reptiles are kind of clumsy on land, but they're built for life in the water. Great swimmers, they are equipped with webbed feet and strong tails that propel them through the water.

An average male American alligator is 10 to 15 feet (three to five meters) long. Half of its length is its massive, strong tail. 

An alligator can weigh as much as half a ton (1,000 pounds), but an average male weighs between 500 and 600 pounds (227 to 272 kilograms). Females are usually smaller than males.

As big and ferocious as the female alligator may look, she is a gentle mother. A mother alligator makes a nest on shore, where she lays her eggs. Then she guards her eggs until they're ready to hatch. 

At that point the babies start to make noises, and their mother hears her little ones' peeps as they break out of the eggs. She gently carries them—in her mouth—to the water nearby.

Newly hatched young are only about six to eight inches (15 to 20 centimeters) long, and very vulnerable. 

Their mother protects them from predators, which include raccoons, bobcats, birds, and even other alligators.

The young alligators stay with their mother for up to two years. After that, they're able to fend for themselves.