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)
Photo: Jeff Hall
Species Profile (PDF)
Coexisting with Alligators (PDF)
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, and alligators in NC have much slower growth rates, reproduce less frequently, and populations are more vulnerable to local extinctions than other more southern states.
Although seeing an alligator for the first time may be scary, North Carolina alligators rarely pose a threat to humans. If an alligator is seen on private or public property it is not immediate cause for alarm.
Follow these common-sense tips and in the majority of cases, these native reptiles will remain shy and secretive and move on.
• Do not intentionally feed an alligator no matter what its size.
• Do not throw food into waters where alligators may be found.
• Fishermen should dispose of fish scraps in garbage cans, and not throw them into the water.
• Do not feed ducks, geese, other waterfowl or fish in areas where alligators have been seen.
• Follow local leash laws or otherwise keep pets on a leash in areas where alligators could potentially occur.
• Never leave children unattended near any body of water.
• Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near waters that may contain alligators.
• Be particularly cautious between dusk and dawn when alligators are most active.
• Do not harass or provoke any alligator.
• Children and adults should 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 WRC at 800-662-7137.
• Install a fence with a minimum height of 4.5 feet around retention ponds, lakes, or other bodies of water that might attract alligators
• Install bulkhead along edges of lakes and waterways
• Add grates to culvert pipes
• Fence causeways between ponds
• Minimize vegetation growing in water or near the water’s edge
• Hang alligator flyers
• Share the document Coexisting with Alligators
• Erect Do Not Feed Alligator signs near water access points
• Share information with your neighbors
• Host an alligator workshop
• Take part in neighborhood message boards
For technical assistance 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 Municipalities
Alligator Management Options for Municipalities (PDF)
Municipality 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.
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 this quick "Get Started Guide" for iPhone. (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 Alicia Davis 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
American alligator (Photo: Jeff Hall)
American alligator (Photo: Wikimedia)
American nest (Photo: Alicia Davis)
American alligator history infographic