Alligators are one of two crocodilian species found in the United States. They are distinguished from American crocodiles by differences in color and the shape of their nose. Crocodiles are brownish in color. American alligators are black with whitish bellies. They are similar in size with adult males reaching six feet in length and 1,000 pounds in length. The American crocodile is confined to the warmer coastal waters of south Florida, where the American alligator can live as far north as the Carolinas and as far west as Texas.
In Alabama, alligators are mostly found in the coastal and inland waters of the Mobile Delta, but have lately been spotted as far north as the Tennessee and Elk Rivers. They prefer water that is 80-92° F, but adults can survive winters where the temperature drops well below that range. During the early months of spring, adult males will leave their marshy habitat and cross surprisingly large expanses of land to another body of water in search of a mate. As the males move to new breeding territory, they are likely to wander across areas populated by humans. It is likely that the images we see of alligators in swimming pools and golf course ponds are cases where males are on the move “looking for love.”
Nuisance alligators, or alligators that come to reside in places where humans live or swim, can pose a real danger when people feed them. Alligators are naturally leery of humans, but they will easily overcome their shyness if food is offered. The most dangerous alligators are those that have come to associate humans with a food source. Lethal attacks on humans by alligators are not common, but it does happen. Contrary to popular belief, attacks are generally not in defense of nesting areas or territory. Alligators generally handle these disputes with noisy aggressive displays. Most attacks on humans probably happen as the alligator hunts for food.
Alligators are still protected by law, but Alabama has instituted a program for limited hunting in an effort to control populations and increase the animal’s wariness to humans. On private property, landowners can do several things to discourage alligators from inhabiting their property. However, once an alligator has staked out a claim on your land, you should call the Wildlife Services Office for assistance.