Alligators are among the largest reptiles on Earth; they’re second only to their larger cousins, the true crocodiles. Both alligators and crocodiles are considered Crocodilians, along with caimans, gharials, and false gharials. There are only two kinds of alligators; the highly endangered Chinese alligator, and the American alligator. American alligators are one of only three crocodilians in North America (the others being the American crocodile and the caiman, albeit in small numbers). But, just how many alligators live in North Carolina?
North Carolina is home to millions of people, but just how many gators live in the state? Keep reading to learn the answer to that question, and more!
What Is An Alligator?
Known for their speed and ferocity as much as for their teeth and scaly hides, alligators have been around for over 60 million years. In all that time, they’ve barely changed.
Where Do Alligators Live?
Alligators are native to North America. Here, they live strictly in the southeastern corner of the continent. They can be found throughout Florida and Louisiana, and in portions of every coastal state, from Texas to North Carolina. North Carolina is the northernmost border of their range. Because of its northerly latitude (compared to the rest of the alligator’s range), gators in North Carolina face unique environmental constraints.
What Alligators Look Like
To find out how many alligators live in North Carolina, let’s first find out just what these beasts look like. Alligators have thick skin which is covered in large scales known as scutes. These scutes run all the way from the head to the tip of the long tail. Alligators are generally brown-green, with yellowish bellies. They have short legs tipped in claws, and wide, “U” shaped mouths.
If you see an alligator in the water, chances are you won’t see much more than its eyes, ears, and nostrils. Because of their semi-aquatic lifestyle, these are all located on top of their heads.
Alligators in North Carolina
According to the North Carolina Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, there are right around 1,000 alligators living in North Carolina. Prior to 1967, alligators in all states were hunted to the brink of extinction. Then, they were placed on the endangered species list and given federal protection. Since then, the alligator population in North Carolina has risen to around 1,000 individuals. This population appears to be stable and is concentrated in the southeastern part of the state.
Where Can You Find Alligators in North Carolina?
Alligators are lowland, freshwater dwelling animals. They occupy only the eastern half of the state and can be found in the coastal and southern counties. Several of North Carolina’s lakes remain home to gators, including Lake Ellis Simon and Orton Pond.
The bottom line is that, if you’re checking out any of the lakes, rivers, or wetlands of coastal or southeastern North Carolina, watch for gators. These prehistoric reptiles make use of all sources of permanent water and can remain hidden just below the water’s surface for long periods of time. If you’re not sure whether or not a specific area is home to gators, err on the side of caution.
Does North Carolina Have the Most Alligators?
Now that we know how many alligators live in North Carolina, let’s find out which state has the most alligators. Louisiana comes in number one for gator population with an estimated two million alligators living in the state. Florida is number two on the list, with an estimated population of 1.3 million alligators.
Hunting Alligators in North Carolina
Alligator populations in North Carolina are still small. But, as of 2018, the state initiated the North Carolina Alligator Management Plan, which allows for some legal alligator hunting. However, hunting alligators in North Carolina is not a matter of applying for and receiving a permit. Rather, the state has instituted a very limited hunt in cases of needed reductions in local alligator populations. These reductions may be in response to nuisance gators, or populations that have simply outgrown their space.
Alligators and Safety
Staying safe around alligators is no laughing matter. Alligators are apex predators capable of killing animals as large as deer and wild pigs, as well as humans. With increasing human population in alligator habitat comes an increase in alligator attacks. To reduce your risk of a negative interaction, remember never to feed any wild alligator. Also, never approach, harass, or attempt to pet a gator, no matter how cute you might think they are.
The bottom line, when it comes to alligator safety, is remembering that all wild animals deserve respect, and should be treated with caution.