Alligator Tail

Alligator tail showing tall epidermal scutes scales. Alligators have a powerful laterally compressed tail that helps them swim. Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia USA. October 23, 2020. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

An alligator is a whole lot of tail! Full of muscle and strength, the tail makes up half of an alligator’s total length and is designed for efficient swimming.

The tail is laterally compressed (which means it is taller than it is wider) and is topped with tall crests of epidermal scales. This design means it can efficiently propel itself through water… sometimes quite rapidly! The tail moves in a wide, serpentine, side-to-side swishing and a trail of wake and small whirlpools follows a quickly swimming gator.The frequency of undulations increases the velocity of the alligator.

The tail is the primary motor and rudder. According to a study*, it is the “main propulsive effector of surface-swimming.” In fact, while swimming, the limbs are primarily folded along the alligator’s side and contribute little to the thrust and steering.


*Fish, F. E. (1984). “Kinematics of undulatory swimming in the American alligator” (PDF). Copeia. 1984 (4): 839–43. ​

Published by William Wise

Hi, I’m conservation photographer and nature writer William Wise. Nature journaling and wildlife photography has been a favorite pastime since the ‘90s. I graduated from University of Georgia Warnell Forestry School's wildlife program in 1996. I'm currently an animal shelter manager/photographer and reside in Athens, Georgia, USA with my wife and two teenage daughters. My website www.williamwisephoto.com is a wildlife and birding photo website documenting the beauty, design and wonder of creation. I have a deep love of the Okefenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia. I became a devoted Christian in 1993 under a campus ministry while studying wildlife biology. My love of the outdoors quickly turned into a love for the Creator and His works. Creation Speaks is my teaching ministry that glorifies our Creator and teaches the truth of creation. I am also a guest author at Lee's Birdwatching Adventures and The Creation Club. The theme of my blogging comes from The Message version of Psalms 104 -- "What a wildly wonderful world, God! You made it all, with Wisdom at Your side, You made earth overflow with your wonderful creations."

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