Alligator, American

Photo: Jeff Hall

Enlarge photo

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)

Enlarge 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

Additional Information

Detailed overview of American Alligator (PDF)

Alligators resemble lizards, but grow much larger and have proportionally thicker bodies and tails. Like many reptiles, alligators reach a larger size in Florida and other southern latitudes, sometimes reaching 15 feet. In NC, 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 are born with bright yellowish-white bands that encircle their bodies. These bands 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. Contrary to popular belief, the tail is not used to attack prey. Two turret-like eyes stick above the skull so the alligator can see above the water as it swims. 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.

In the southeast, the American alligator inhabits freshwater swamps, marshes, ponds, lakes and the backwaters of large rivers. They have also been observed in brackish water and even on beaches. Adult alligators are usually solitary, but often congregate together, especially in 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 takes place in May through June. After mating, the female alligator begins to build a mound-like nest of leaves, sticks, mud and other debris. The nest, built near water, measures 2-3 feet tall and up to 6 feet in diameter. After approximately 65 days, the young hatch and are about 9 inches long. 

Learn more by reading the American Alligator species profile (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.

American alligators occur naturally in North Carolina, inhabiting bay lakes, rivers, creeks, marshes, swamps and ponds, with local populations distributed in patches along the entire coast. Alligators become less common in coastal NC as you move from south to north. Climate - specifically the number of cold weather days - limits their “growing season” and their ability to survive and reproduce. Coastal NC is considered the northern extent of their range; 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.


Preventing Conflicts with Alligators 

Seeing an alligator in person for the first time can be scary, but they rarely pose a threat to humans. In North Carolina, people and alligators are usually able to peacefully coexist; even seeing one in a neighborhood pond or canal is not cause for immediate 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.


Be Alligator Aware

  • Never intentionally feed an alligator, no matter its size.
  • Do not throw food into the water where alligators may be found.
  • When fishing, dispose of fish scraps in the garbage, not into the water.
  • Do not feed ducks, geese, other waterfowl or fish where alligators have been seen.
  • Keep pets on a leash where alligators could be present.
  • Never leave children unattended near any body of water.
  • Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near waters where alligators could be present.
  • Be particularly cautious between dusk and dawn when alligators are most active.
  • Do not harass or provoke any alligator.
  • Never approach an alligator or any other large wild animal.
  • If the alligator is in a residence or place of business, or interrupting traffic on a public road, call Wildlife Enforcement at 800-662-7137.


Long-term Exclusion and Environment Options

  • Install a fence at least 4.5 feet tall around retention ponds, lakes, or other bodies of water that might attract alligators.
  • Install a bulkhead along edges of lakes and waterways.
  • Add grates to culvert pipes.
  • Fence causeways between ponds.
  • Reduce vegetation growing in or near the water’s edge.


Help Your Neighbors Become Alligator Aware

  • Print and share this Coexisting with Alligators guide.
  • Post Do Not Feed Alligator signs wherever people access the water.
  • Share information with your neighbors in person and on neighborhood message boards.
  • Arrange to have an alligator workshop for your community.

For additional guidance with exclusion or habitat modification, call 866-318-2401 or 919-707-4011.

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


Jurisdictional Alligator Handler Program Information Packet (PDF)