Photo: Jeff Hall
Scientific Name: Alligator mississippiensis
Classification: State Threatened and Federally Threatened due to Similarity of Appearance
Abundance: Common in some coastal areas of the state (natural distribution map)
Species Profile (PDF)
Coexisting with Alligators (PDF)
American alligator (Photo: Jeff Hall)
American alligator (Photo: Wikimedia)
American nest (Photo: Alicia Davis)
American alligator history infographic
American alligators occur naturally in North Carolina, inhabiting bay lakes, rivers, creeks, marshes, swamps and ponds, with local populations distributed in patches along the coast. Although they lack the salt-secreting glands of their crocodile cousins, they are often observed in brackish waters and even occasionally on beaches. They can make short trips to take advantage of the abundant food resources found in waters with higher salinities, but must periodically return to freshwater. North Carolina is the northern extent of the alligator's range and they generally become less common as you move from south to north along the NC coast. Climate - specifically the number of cold weather days - limits their “growing season” and their ability to survive and reproduce. Due to our colder winters, alligators in NC have much slower growth rates, reproduce less often, and are more vulnerable to local population extinctions than those in more southern states.
Alligators resemble lizards, but grow much larger and have proportionally thicker bodies and tails. Males can reach 13 feet and weigh up to 500 pounds or more. Females generally grow to less than 9 feet and weigh up to 200 pounds. Adults range in color from black or dark gray to dark olive. Juveniles hatch out with bright yellowish-white bands that encircle their bodies. These bands help them hide from predators in vegetation and gradually fade over time. Alligators have a broad snout that is useful for digging, a short neck and legs, and a thick tail that is used to propel them through water. Their turret-like eyes and nostrils are positioned so it can see above the water and breathe as it swims with the rest of its head and body below the water's surface. Its leathery skin is toughest on its back, where small bones called osteoderms create a rough, ridged shield. Unlike the turtle, though, these hard, flat bones are not connected to each other, so the alligator retains greater flexibility.
Adult alligators are usually solitary, but will congregate together during the breeding season. Both males and females vocalize. The male calls with a loud, throaty bellow and may hiss and inflate to impress a mate. Females bellow and grunt, too, but less loudly. Young alligators call with a high-pitched chirp. Mating occurs in May through June. After mating, the female alligator builds a mound-like nest of leaves, grasses, woody vegetation, and other debris that resembles a large compost pile—and works like one, too. As the nest material decomposes, heat is produced that incubates the eggs. Throughout incubation, the female will stand guard from nearby, often submerged inconspicuously in the safety of the water, which also enables better regulation of her body temperature. Nests typically measure 2-3 feet tall and up to 6 feet in diameter. After approximately 65 days, the young will hatch out measuring only about 9 inches long. Upon hearing their emergence calls from inside the nest, the maternal female will come to excavate her young and carry them to the water in her strong jaws. They will stay together in a group (called a pod) in her territory for the first few years of their life. Females lay an average of 35 eggs per clutch but only nest every 2-3 years on average.
Learn more by reading the American Alligator species profile (PDF) or a Detailed overview of American Alligator (PDF)
At its February 2018 meeting, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission (NCWRC) adopted a rule to allow limited take of American alligators (H6) as prescribed by the North Carolina Alligator Management Plan (Plan). In accordance with the Plan, hunting for American alligators will initially be limited to population reduction hunts at the request of cities, towns, and villages within Alligator Management Unit 1 (Brunswick, Carteret, Columbus, Craven, Hyde, Jones, New Hanover, Onslow, Pamlico, and Pender counties). A municipality requesting a population reduction hunt will work with Commission staff to assess alligator numbers, define areas of public safety concern, and identify those areas where alligator take could be conducted by hunters.
The Commission does not plan to issue permits to take American alligators, outside of municipality requested population reduction hunts, until further research is conducted to determine the conditions under which alligator populations would be sustained while allowing limited harvest.
In addition to publication on NCWRC’s website, any opportunities that become available for hunters to apply for alligator hunting permits will be announced through NCWRC news releases and Wildlife Update emails.
Municipalities can find information about requesting a population reduction hunt under the Management tab.
If you know of someone poaching, harming, harassing, or intentionally feeding alligators in North Carolina, please call our Wildlife Enforcement hotline at 1-800-662-7137.
Preventing Conflicts with Alligators
Wild alligators are naturally wary of humans and, like other wildlife, will seek to keep a safe distance from people. In North Carolina, people and alligators are usually able to peacefully coexist and share our coastal habitats; even seeing one in a neighborhood pond or canal is not cause for alarm. In most cases, alligators will remain shy and secretive, and will move on when they are ready. The following tips can help ensure this is the case.
As specified in NCAC 10B .0224, alligator hunting is allowed by permit only in North Carolina. Otherwise harming or killing an alligator is strictly prohibited. Only authorized individuals can remove problem alligators.
At its October 2017 meeting, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission adopted a plan to guide alligator management in North Carolina.The N.C. Alligator Management Plan was developed by the N.C. Alligator Task Force, as established by resolution of the Commission.
Download the NC Alligator Management Plan (PDF)
Download Addendum 1 (PDF)
Resources for Local Governments
Alligator Management Options for Local Governments (PDF)
Municipality / County Application for Alligator Population Reduction Hunt (PDF)
For more information about alligator management options for municipalities, including population reduction hunts, please call (919) 707-4087 or email email@example.com.
Jurisdictional Alligator Handler Program Information Packet (PDF)
Detailed overview of American Alligator (PDF)
Coexist with Alligators (PDF)
Alligator Species Profile (PDF)
Summary of Public Input on 2017 Draft Alligator Management Plan (PDF)
Summary of Public Input from 2016 NCWRC Alligator Management Forums (PDF)
NC Alligators citizen-science project on iNaturalist
Anyone, whether a resident or visitor, who spots an alligator in the wild in North Carolina is asked to upload and share their photos on the project titled “NC Alligators,” on the free online platform iNaturalist. Upload photos using a computer at iNaturalist.org, or download the free iNaturalist app, which is available for iPhone and Android. iNaturalist is fun and user-friendly!
Download "NC Alligators Project on iNaturalist: Step by Step Instructions for Participating" (PDF)
Have an Android smartphone or a computer? Check out these video tutorials on how to upload photos to iNaturalist using a mobile device or computer
Learn more about the Wildlife Commission's NC Alligators project
Don’t want to use iNaturalist but still want to participate? Send alligator observations directly to the NCWRC at firstname.lastname@example.org. The email should include:
• A photo of the alligator
• When it was observed (date and time)
• The location where it was found (GPS coordinates)
• Estimation of size class
o Hatchling-3 feet
o 3-6 feet
o 6-9 feet
o More than 9 feet