Why have scientists found alligator bones in a fossil site in NE Tennessee when they don’t live there today?

In 2000, scientists uncovered the fossilized remains of an extinct alligator while excavating a 5 million-year-old fossil site in Gray, Tennessee. This important find gave scientists new clues about the environment of northeastern Tennessee at the time. Alligators are just one of many animals that have been recovered from this site but no longer live in this region. Together, they provide an important snapshot into the vibrant ecosystem that once inhabited Northeast Tennessee and the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains.

In this module, you will explore the habitat of modern alligators to gain a better understanding of what this animal needs to survive. You will then learn about some of the important fossil animals that have been recovered from this paleontological site in Gray, Tennessee and what these animals tell us about the past environment in that area. Finally, you will investigate some of the ways that species respond to changes in their habitat. By the end of this module, you should have a better understanding of why alligators once lived in northeastern Tennessee, but are no longer found in this region. 

While all of the resources you will need to complete this module are provided through videos, links and documents on this site, it will be helpful to have a notebook or journal on hand to record your thoughts and findings as you proceed through the exercises. 

Modern alligator in Everglades National Park. National Park Service Photo by Rodney Cammauf, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

About This Module

This module was developed to assist students in Grades 3-6 to better understand specific core concepts from the Life Sciences (LS) and Earth and Space Sciences (ESS) disciplines. Development of these materials has been funded in part by an education grant from the National Geographic Society. Educators can learn more about this module here