You may have seen one of the numerous reports of alligators trespassing in residential areas across the United States, even in chilly North Carolina. People who live in the Tar Heel State or are planning to visit may wonder whether you should expect any scaly encounters.
To preserve the safety of your loved ones (not to mention the alligators), heed the knowledge of wildlife authorities and climatologists.
North Carolina has a population of around 1000 alligators that occur there naturally. According to wildlife authorities in North Carolina, alligators are primarily situated around the coastal and Outer Banks regions, and their territory spreads northwards, just shy of the border with Virginia.
North Carolina is surprisingly home to around 1000 alligators despite its relatively colder climate.
Alligators Occur Naturally In North Carolina
There are an estimated 1000 alligators that live in North Carolina. American alligators are native to North Carolina and might even be the longest inhabitants of the Tar Heel State.
As members of the ever-grinning crocodilian family that survived the mass extinction of the dinosaurs, the species is likely to have inhabited the land for millions of years.
Records show that alligators have occurred in North Carolina for at least 150 years.
For some time, though, populations took a knock, and they were nearly hunted to extinction before efforts to protect the species were introduced in 1967.
Since then, the number of alligators has increased, and sightings and encounters in North Carolina are becoming much more common.
How Widely Are Alligators Spread Across North Carolina?
Cold-blooded animals, such as alligators, crocodiles, turtles, caimans, snakes, and lizards, often prefer tropical and subtropical environments where they can more easily find food and shelter.
Still, alligators can be found across the coastal regions of the southeast states of the US, reaching up north into colder North Carolina as the northernmost area they occur naturally.
Alligators can be found as far to the north as Gates County, with the occasional intruder spotted in Virginia.
Within North Carolina, most alligators live along the Cape Fear and Neuse River Valleys regions, but populations extend well inland to within the Outer Banks.
Alligators are fond of swamps, rivers, canals, tidal basins, ponds, and the lakes of the eastern reaches of North Carolina, and they can commonly be seen along the coastline, even if they are not well-equipped to deal with salty water.
Alligators may perch themselves on a beach or swim in the sea for a few days. But inevitably, alligators always return to a river or lake.
Vulnerability to extreme cold inhibits the spread of alligators into areas with harsher winters and less direct sunlight.
Due to the colder climate in North Carolina, alligators have a lower population than further south, and they tend to be smaller as they take longer to reach similar sizes.
As cold-blooded animals, alligators require external heat sources to regulate their body temperatures and assist with metabolism.
Alligators do not hibernate as mammals do but “brumate.” While alligators brumate, their metabolism slows down, and they don’t have to eat.
When it gets too cold, alligators will dig a burrow and settle in for a long time, meaning sightings are scarcer in the winter.
How Do Alligators Sometimes Get Deeper Into North Carolina?
There are occasional reports of people spotting alligators in some of the bigger cities in inland North Carolina, including Charlotte, Raleigh, and Concord.
Alligator encounters are sometimes reported in residential areas, particularly when moving bodies of water are nearby.
News reports surface now and then of alligators spotted in a swimming pool, near a church, on the beach, or even at a fast-food restaurant drive-through. With increasing alligator populations and more people around, one can expect increased interactions between the species.
Any alligators you encounter further inland than about a third of the state’s distance from the shore are likely to be brought in from elsewhere and are thus anomalies.
People occasionally buy alligators as pets in states where their sales are permitted, and then they escape or are released.
Climate change may broaden the habitable spaces for alligators. Areas once too cold for alligators to survive (like Virginia) are becoming increasingly temperate and alluring to alligators as habitat. Alligators are also spreading deeper inland than ever before.
There have been reports of alligators as far west as Memphis in neighboring Tennessee.
What Should You Do If You Encounter An Alligator?
Alligators are naturally wary of humans and will seek to avoid contact, if possible, but they may become accustomed to being fed and become “nuisance alligators” and may be dangerous.
The overwhelming majority of hostile encounters between humans and alligators can be tied to people having fed the alligators, and the alligators then starting to associate humans with food sources.
It is best to give alligators some space and pay extra attention to keeping your pets away from them, especially during the transitions between day and night and generally when it is dark, as alligators are most active during these times.
If you spot an alligator, you should give it time and space, and it will move away on its own most of the time. If the alligator threatens the lives of humans, pets, or livestock, you should notify wildlife control officers to remove the alligator safely.
With the upswing in the alligator population reported, some counties in North Carolina have recently started issuing permits for alligator hunting annually, mainly between September and October.
To control rapidly growing populations, the North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission will allow registered hunters to hunt a limited number of alligators yearly.
The Wildlife Resource Commission only issues a few hunting permits in any region.
Each hunter can kill only one alligator during the designated season, as alligators are still classified as a threatened species. The punishment for killing an alligator in North Carolina is a fine of $500, with the potential of a 2-year prison sentence. Also, you will have to pay a replacement fee of over $4000.
Alligators are part of the natural ecosystem and play a vital role in conservation. They are food sources for other animals who eat their eggs and hatchlings, and when they reach adulthood and start catching prey, they control the populations of different animal species.
Alligator nests are also often reused by other animals, and their habits thus help to sustain the entire ecosystem.
Final Thoughts On Alligators In North Carolina
Alligators occur naturally in the coastal areas and Outer Banks regions of North Carolina, stretching north to Gates County, near the border with Virginia.
These reptiles can often be seen near bodies of water, sunbathing on the banks of beaches, or nesting in the foliage of swamps, but occasionally find their way into inhabited areas.
Should you encounter an alligator, it is advisable to keep a safe distance and ensure that you keep any children, pets, or livestock from getting nearby.
Alligators are mostly harmless to humans, but some may associate people with providers of food and may act out of frustration if none is forthcoming.
In North Carolina, alligators are a protected species, and killing, abusing, or even feeding them, is illegal.