If you’re at all familiar with alligators, then you probably know they spend much of their lives in water. This may have led you to ask some questions: how long can alligators stay underwater? Can they breathe in the water, or do they have to hold their breath when submerged? Do alligators sleep in the water? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.
What You'll Learn Today
How Long Can Alligators Stay Underwater?
There are varying reports and opinions on exactly how long an alligator can remain submerged before having to surface.
According to some, alligators can stay underwater for up to 24 hours, though most other sources, including the University of California San Diego, say they can only stay down for about 2 hours.
Regardless of how long they are physically able to stay submerged, they rarely do anything so extreme unless they are escaping danger or are brumating (going dormant) in cold weather. Most often, alligators will only submerge for about 10 to 20 minutes at a time, at most.
Similarly to crocodiles, alligators can remain in the water for an indefinite amount of time as long as they are able to surface and breathe from time to time.
They don’t necessarily live in the water, but they are well-suited for spending most of their time in it.
How Long Can an Alligator Stay Underwater Without Coming Up for Air?
As noted in the above section, there are differing reports on how long alligators can actually remain submerged. The short answer is, they can stay underwater for as long as their oxygen supply lasts.
Alligators have the unique ability to ration their own oxygen supply, using just enough to keep themselves alive. This way, they are able to use very little oxygen over a long period of time.
How do they do this?
When submerging for extended periods, alligators will slow their heart rate to only two or three beats per minute. The heart may, in fact, be the only organ to receive oxygen during such times.
It is thought that the alligator “tanks up” on oxygen during the first 20 minutes of dive; in other words, it uses up about 50 percent of its oxygen at the beginning of the dive, then uses very little throughout the rest of the dive.
Alligators performing these extended periods of submersion will stay underwater until their oxygen is almost used up, then return to the surface.
How Long Can an Alligator Hold Its Breath?
Again, it’s unclear exactly how long an alligator can stay underwater, and this is because it isn’t clear exactly how long it can hold its breath.
According to Texas Parks and Wildlife, alligators can hold their breath anywhere from 1 to 24 hours when they have to, and they can easily hold their breath for 20 to 30 minutes on a regular basis. Other sources say they can hold their breath for up to 45 minutes.
How long an alligator can hold its breath may depend on factors such as the age and health of the alligator, the water temperature and conditions, etc.
Can Alligators Breathe Underwater?
Considering they spend much of their time in the water, and there is speculation they can remain submerged for up to 24 hours, you may be tempted to think that they aren’t holding their breath at all–that perhaps they are actually breathing underwater.
This is an understandable guess, but it isn’t true. Alligators cannot breathe underwater.
Alligators are reptiles, not fish; they have lungs, not gills. When they stay under the water for long periods of time, they are simply displaying their impressive breath-holding skills; they are not able to breathe while under the water.
As noted above, even when they spend massive amounts of time underwater, they must occasionally surface. Even an alligator that stays submerged for 24 hours will eventually have to come up for air.
Do Alligators Sleep in the Water?
So, if alligators can’t breathe underwater, but they can hold their breath for long periods of time, can they sleep in the water?
They can, but they don’t always.
Alligators may sleep for short periods of time while submerged or partially submerged, but they won’t do so all the time. Sometimes they also sleep on the shore.
Alligators often dig hollows in the mud to sleep in, allowing themselves to be partially in the water and partially on the shore. They don’t usually sleep while completely submerged–at least not for long periods of time.
Even when they are sleeping underwater, alligators usually keep their nostrils pointed up and out of the water so they can breathe, as seen in the video below:
Alligators cannot breathe underwater, but it may sometimes seem like they can because they are able to stay underwater for exceptionally long time periods–sometimes as much as 24 hours. Though alligators spend much of their time in the water, they do have to surface to breathe now and then, and they often lounge in shallow water where they can keep their nostrils above the surface.