Do alligators have ears?

27 August 1999

Unlike humans and most other mammals, crocodilians don’t have external ears, but they do have eardrums just behind the eyes. The eardrums are protected by scaly, moveable skin flaps and their location, in conjunction with the nostrils, is perfectly suited for this reptilian’s habitat. This anatomical placement allows the alligator to remain submerged with only the top of its head exposed so it can still hear, breathe and see.

Gator Ears and Crocodile Tears -- Crocodillians are perfectly adapted to their habitats. Locations of eyes and ears, along with special muscles that close off nostrils when submerged help these reptiles survive underwater.

Gator Ears and Crocodile Tears — Crocodillians are perfectly adapted to their habitats. Locations of eyes and ears, along with special muscles that close off nostrils when submerged, help these reptiles survive underwater.

Unlike most reptiles, alligators come equipped with unique features to make life in the wetlands easier. A set of muscles close the alligator’s nostrils when it dives. A valve in the back of its throat prevents water from entering its mouth when submerged. This adaptation is especially useful when alligators capture prey underwater.

Alligators also have a transparent third eyelid, known as a nictitating membrane, that covers the eyes when they swim. Speaking of eyes, what about those famous “crocodile tears”? It’s true that crocodilians do produce tears. The tears, secreted from glands similar to human tear ducts, help keep eyes clean and lubricate the nictitating membrane. Tears are most noticeable when an alligator has been out of the water for some time and the eyes begin drying out.