Currently set to Index
Currently set to Follow

How Long Can Alligators Hold Their Breath? (How They Do It)

Alligators can stay underwater for 30 minutes easily, but they can extend this to 24 hours if they have to. However, the conditions must be right, and they must prepare to stay underwater for a day

A partially submerged crocodile

To do this, the alligator must slow its heartbeat to three beats per minute, control its temperature, and must remain conscious throughout the dive. If it loses consciousness, it will die. After that, the alligator comes back to the surface to breathe. 

How Long Can Alligators Stay Underwater?

Holding their breath and staying underwater are the same thing, at least for animals. Unlike humans, animals do not hold their breath just for fun or to test themselves. 

In a study, a doctor of physiology found out that alligators make adjustments to their circulatory system to prolong their ability to hold their breath.

They shut off the oxygen supply to some organs and tissues. These are organs that are not critically dependent on oxygen to function.

People have different opinions about how long an alligator can stay underwater. Some say it is between four and fifteen minutes. The official statement of the Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept is 24 hours, but this is a stretch for most alligators.

Do Alligators Sleep Underwater?

Alligators can not sleep underwater. Alligators do rest underwater, but they prefer to sleep on land under the sun because they have no internal way to heat their bodies and they can keep one eye open while they rest to look out for predators.

In science, sleeping with one eye open is called uni-hemispheric sleep. It is a sleeping behavior that allows animals to observe potential threats in their surroundings. 

Half a brain is active in this kind of sleep, and the other half is unconscious. It is an ability that human beings do not possess. 

Alligators prefer to sleep on land because they can warm their bodies with the sun and they can keep an eye out for any potential threats.

alligator
Alligators prefer to sleep on land, where the sun can warm their bodies

Related Article: How Long Can Alligators Hold Their Breath?

How Long can a Baby Alligator Stay Underwater?

Baby alligators can swim and dive similar to adult alligators, but they have smaller lungs and thus can not stay underwater for as long. There is no publically available data on the breath-holding abilities of baby alligators. 

Once the baby alligators hatch, they move to the water. They spend their days together with their mother. They are defenseless, and they can be an easy meal for birds and other alligators. 

After about a year, the baby alligators should be bigger. However, they are still not safe from big alligators that want to cannibalize them. At this time, they will be diving and staying underwater to hunt.

A juvenile caiman on some reptile eggs
Baby alligators take to the water as soon as they are born

Can Alligators Breathe Underwater?

No, alligators cannot breathe underwater—they have no gills. Instead, alligators must hold their breath to stay submerged.

A study concludes that the alligator changes its physiological mechanisms to do this. 

Three things happen. These are:

  • Control of heartbeat; the alligator’s heart will beat only two to three times a minute
  • Maintain oxygen consumption of only half during the first 20 minutes of a two-hour dive
  • Stay conscious while underwater 

The doctor who studied this was Dr. Harald T. Andersen, and he worked with Dr. Per F. Scholander to conduct these experiments

They tested 14 alligators which they acquired from a zoo. They found out that the respiratory activities between humans and animals, including the alligator, are similar. 

He also found out that the alligator’s muscles did not produce lactic acid until it emerged from the water. It means that there is a reduction in the flow of blood in the muscles while the alligator is underwater. 

How Deep can an Alligator Swim?

Alligators do not swim down to deep water, they prefer to stay near the surface where they can hunt and breathe.

Although alligators and crocodiles are fast swimmers, they are not powerful ones. They do not have the same power as marine animals swimming against the current. 

alligator
Alligators linger at the surface, where they can breathe and hunt effectively

How Long can Alligators Stay on Land?

Alligators can stay on land indefinitely. Unlike amphibians, alligators do not need access to bodies of water to lay their eggs, reproduce, or eat. Alligators are reptiles, but they cannot live in the water or stay there as long as aquatic reptiles like turtles do.

They have lungs, and they need to breathe air. But, unlike fish, they have no gills that allow them to process oxygen from the water. 

As reptiles, alligators cannot regulate their body temperature. They are ectothermic animals that need external heat. Ectothermic animals depend on external sources of heat.

As cold-blooded animals, they need to bask under the sun to manage their internal temperature. They stay on land to do this and dive underwater to hunt. Once they feel cold, they go back to land and bathe under the sun.

Summary

Alligators, on average, can stay underwater for 30 minutes. However, they have the power to stay submerged for 24 hours, provided that the conditions are right. 

Alligators do not breathe underwater, as they have no gills. They can hold their breathe for so long because they have special abilities. Sometimes, alligators rest underwater, but they never really sleep there.

Skip to content