American Alligator

Alligators that shared the earth with dinosaurs 180 million years ago looked almost the same as today’s alligators. Along the Atlantic coast, American alligators are distributed from the Florida Everglades to North Carolina. In South Carolina, American alligators make extensive use of the state’s coastal marshlands. They primarily live in freshwater. However, they will occasionally venture into salt water. (In the summer of 2009 one was spotted swimming just off the short of Bloody Point Beach.)


American alligators are cold-blooded animals, but generally are active year round in South Carolina. Nest site selection, construction, maintenance, and protection are important activities in the life of a female alligator. In South Carolina, the majority of nest construction and egg laying takes place during the month of June. Nests are located on high ground, 3 to 18 feet from the water’s edge, and consist of a large mound of mud and crushed vegetation. Females deposit approximately 40 – 60 eggs into a hole they dig into the mud nest. After 65 days, about 70% of the hatchlings will emerge. They are 10 inches long and weigh only 2 ounces.


What do alligators eat?
Hatchlings feed on invertebrates such as insects, crustaceans, and snails and on small fish. As they grow, they add larger foods such as snakes, larger insects and frogs to their diet. The most common adult food item is blue crabs. Alligators are also known to feed on dead animals. Once alligators reach adulthood, they are top-level carnivores and have no natural predators. Raccoons, wading birds, and deer are prey of the largest animals.


How big do they get?
Males can reach 13 feet in length or more while females typically don’t grow longer than 9.5 feet.


What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Alligators and crocodiles are related. Alligators have rounded snouts; most crocodile species have longer, pointed snouts. Also, crocodiles live only in tropical and subtropical areas (only south Florida in the United States). Alligators, on the other hand, live in somewhat colder climates.


How do we live safely around alligators?
Don't feed alligators. This is a most important rule. Providing food for these wild animals not only makes them bolder and encourages them to seek out people, it also alters their natural diet in an unhealthy way.

Keep your distance. Although they may look slow and awkward, these animals are extremely powerful and can move with a startling burst of speed on land over short distances. A safe distance from an adult alligator is about 60 feet.

Never disturb nests or small alligators. Some female alligators protect their young and may become aggressive if provoked. A baby alligator should never be captured, even if the mother is not visible. She may be watching you and decide to take action to protect her baby.

Keep pets and children away from alligators. Large alligators do not recognize the difference between domestic pets and wild food sources. When they are hungry, alligators act on their hunting instinct and might attempt to feed on your house pet if given the opportunity.

Don't swim in areas that are known alligator habitats. Always be careful around water. Be cautious when fishing in waters with alligators, as some will not hesitate to grab a hooked fish or eat the fish on a stringer. Source: