Alligators in Biloxi: Are You Safe to Go in the Water?

Written by Alan Lemus
Updated: July 7, 2023
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Mississippi is more than the birthplace of American music. The Southeastern state features a variety of habitats, including wetlands, forests, boundary islands, coastal dunes, grasslands, and of course, the second-largest river in North America, the Mississippi River. Combine this amazing line-up of landscapes with the state’s humid subtropical climate; long, hot summers and brief, moderate winters. What do you have? A state teeming with diverse wildlife.

Mississippi on the map of United States

Mississippi has one of the most diverse fish populations in the country.

©Alexander Lukatskiy/Shutterstock.com

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The Magnolia State boasts one of the most diverse fish populations in the country, with 204 indigenous fish species. It also hosts about 84 reptile species and 204 birds. 

The Mississippi Basin is often separated into subregions due to its size and great species richness. For example, there are approximately 375 fish species in the basin; about 120 can be found in the Upper Mississippi River alone.

The Mississippi River basin is the flyway for 60% of migratory birds in North America and 40% of U.S. migratory birds during spring and fall movements.

The American alligator is one of the many reptiles native to the river channels in the Hospitality State. In fact, it was recognized as the official state reptile in 2005. 

According to the Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, the state has an estimated 32,000-38,000 alligators and around 408,000 acres of habitat for them. Southeast Mississippi is the alligator capital of the state. The Pascagoula River drainage system is vast enough for the reptiles to thrive.

With 57,000 acres and 7,500 alligators, Jackson County beats other counties to the largest alligator habitat in the state, and it’s home to about 24% of the state’s total alligator population. Hancock and Rankin have approximately 3,900 and 2,400 alligators, representing 12% and 7.4% of the state total, respectively.

The body also found that alligators in Mississippi are typically much bigger than those in other states where alligators are hunted, such as Florida and Louisiana. 

Alligators inhabit marshes, oxbow lakes, rivers, swamps, lakes, and bayous in the state, so being gator safe is a must for every resident.

Are Alligators in Biloxi?

Mississippi, Gulfport, Biloxi, Beach, Gulf Coast

Biloxi is located along the Gulf Coast in the southern part of Mississippi.

©iStock.com/George Dodd

Yes, alligators exist in Biloxi. It’s the state’s fourth-largest city and one of the two county seats for Harrison County. With 416,259 inhabitants in 2020, it is a major city in the Gulfport-Biloxi metropolitan area.

Biloxi is located in southern Mississippi along the Gulf Coast next to Gulfport, the county’s other seat. It shares a border with the Gulf of Mexico’s Mississippi Sound to the south, D’Iberville to its north and east, while Gulfport borders it to the west. 

The Playground of the South is also partially surrounded by Biloxi Bay to the northeast. In addition, the unincorporated neighborhood of St. Martin and the city of Ocean Springs in Jackson County lie to the northeast, across Biloxi Bay. 

Biloxi is 31 minutes away from Moss Point, where the only alligator ranch in Mississippi is located. The Gulf Coast Ranch features high-speed airboat tours across the 105 acres of swampland, where you’re sure to see alligators. The ranch also offers walking tours with lovely paths and up-close views of gators. Of course, it’s also possible to feed the reptiles.

There are alligator-watching areas in Davis Bayou in Ocean Springs. The Gulf Islands National Seashore section of the national park is open to tourists for free and from dawn to dusk. The presence of alligators may fluctuate according to the time of year because it is a very natural location, but if they are out, you may get a fantastic close-up view of them. Ocean Springs is about 2 miles east of Biloxi.

In May 2022, there were sightings of a 7-foot alligator, first at Biloxi Lighthouse Pier, then close to Deer Island. 

The American alligator is the most widely distributed gator species across the United States, particularly in the Southeast. Mississippi isn’t an exception; the state has an impressive distribution of the fearsome reptile species.

American Alligator

Alligator Poop Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know Cover image

The largest reptile in the United States is the American Alligator.

©iStock.com/1277172510

The intimidating, semi-aquatic American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)is the largest reptile in the United States and North America. Males average 10 to 11.2 feet in length and can weigh up to 1,000 pounds. Females can grow up to 8.2 feet in length. They are cold-blooded reptiles who rely on their immediate environment for warmth. They dig mud-filled pits to retain heat or savor the sun’s rays.

Despite their large size, the gators have four short legs, with four toes on the back and five on the front legs. Unlike adults with dark tail stripes, young people have brilliant yellow stripes on their tails.

Scutes, little bony plates buried in the skin, act as armor on their back. They have long, rounded snouts with nostrils that point upward at the end; this helps them to breathe when the rest of their bodies are submerged. Their webbed feet and long, strong tails allow them to swim well and move through the water quickly.

American alligators are close relatives of American crocodiles but can be distinguished from them by their overlapping jaws, darker color, and wider snout. American crocodiles are typically found in tropical and warm subtropical climates due to their relatively lower tolerance for cooler climates. In contrast, American alligators can’t thrive in saltwater as well as they do.

alligator with its mouth hanging open

When an alligator’s mouth is closed, its big, fourth tooth in the lower jaw is hidden in a socket in the upper jaw.

©Deborah Ferrin/Shutterstock.com

The teeth can also tell an alligator from a crocodile apart. When an alligator’s mouth is closed, its big, fourth tooth in the lower jaw is hidden in a socket in the upper jaw. This does not occur in crocodiles. 

Gators can use up to 3,000 teeth in a lifespan; they often have 74-80 teeth at once, which are replaced when they deteriorate. 

They prefer slow-moving freshwaters but are also commonly found in lakes, swamps, and marshes. Their population is distributed across many states, including Mississippi, Florida, Texas, Louisiana, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia.

Adult alligators are carnivorous apex predators. They use their razor-sharp teeth to seize prey, usually invertebrates, birds, fish, mammals, frogs, and rarely, humans. They are nocturnal, and their glottis enables them to catch prey fully immersed in water.

Strongest animal bite – American alligator

As they develop and mature, an American alligator’s teeth and jaws change significantly.

©RICIfoto/Shutterstock.com

Conservation Efforts in Mississippi

The American alligator was once widespread in the Southeast United States. However, by 1960, most of their former range had been wiped out. As a result, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the American Alligator as an endangered species in 1967 due to the decline in alligator populations.

Alligator populations in Mississippi and the rest of the Southeast started showing signs of rapid recovery following their designation as endangered species. The change was reflected in population surveys and an increase in the number of nuisance complaints.

In response, the Mississippi Legislature passed a law in 1987 granting the Mississippi Commission on Wildlife Conservation the power to establish alligator management guidelines.

The Commission approved alligator regulations in 1989, and the Alligator Management and Control Project was established by the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP).

Can You Swim Safely in Natural Waters in Biloxi?

It’s best not to swim in the natural waters of Biloxi. Barrier islands are strewn off the coast and into the Gulf of Mexico, with Biloxi’s coastline directly on the Mississippi Sound. From the Jackson County line, the Back Bay of Biloxi travels west, passing through Biloxi and ending at Big Lake, the confluence of the Tchoutacabouffa and Biloxi rivers. 

The Tchoutacbouffa runs through the city from east to west, making up a portion of its eastern border. These are typical alligator habitats, likely to support thriving populations of the species; therefore, it’s advisable to avoid swimming in them. 

Do not let your pets or kids drink from or play near the water’s edge in alligator-inhabited areas. A splash could signal the presence of a food source to an alligator.

Never swim in or near heavily vegetated regions or shorelines because they prefer to seek and hide in areas with lots of flora.

Alligators limit their contact with humans as much as possible due to their shyness. However, feeding them can cause them to stop being afraid of people and start considering them as potential prey. 

The Alligator Program coordinator for the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks (MDWFP), Ricky Flynt, advised against fish feeding in waters with alligators, especially those around residential areas. Alligators are attracted to the feed and the fish that consume it.

A large mama gator is likely close by if you see a young alligator swimming in circles. Alligators zealously guard their offspring, so retreat slowly before it becomes dangerous. 

Look for obvious signs of an alligator’s presence, such as deep divots in the mud or flattened patches of marsh grass.

Alligator Attack in Biloxi

A closeup grayscale of an alligator in the water

There hasn’t been a documented alligator attack in Mississippi.

©Mix Tape/Shutterstock.com

Flynt at the MDWFP confirmed there hasn’t been a documented alligator attack in Mississippi. He attributed this to the state’s relatively smaller gator population (compared to Florida), residential building patterns, and healthy regard for the animal.

However, there was a noteworthy incident in October 2018. After discovering “an above average amount” of alligators in the water near the Arbor Landing on the River apartments off Popp’s Ferry Road in Biloxi, the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks set alligator traps along the Tchoutacabouffa River. Unfortunately, these traps managed to catch alligators.  

According to Capt. Barry Delcambre of the MDWFP, the largest alligator, was 10 feet 11 inches long, while the smallest one was about 5 feet long.

Delcambre stated at the time the traps were placed that, the alligators would be killed rather than moved to another location where they would be a threat.

The death of 31-year-old Staff Sgt. Luis O. Cisneros-Godinez in the river prompted the search. However, Delcambre said there were no indications the man was the victim of an alligator attack.

Cisneros-Godinez worked as a medical lab technician with the 81st Diagnostics and Therapeutics Squadron, 81st Medical Group, and 81st Training Wing while in active service as an airman in the U.S. Air Force.

Where Can You Swim to Avoid Alligators in Biloxi?

The fabulous swimming spots in Biloxi are the best summer gifts to the residents, and Buck City has more than enough to go around. Check the respective websites for information about opening hours and ticket prices.

The Margaritaville Resort Rooftop Water Park is the only rooftop water park in the state. It offers five-star water entertainment to resort guests of all ages and is appropriately called a “rooftop oasis.”

It features a swim-up bar and relaxing spaces for adults. Children can enjoy a 450-foot lazy river, splash areas, a ropes course, numerous water slides, and other activities.

This park is the stuff dreams are made of. It overlooks the Mississippi Sound. Thus, the ocean, sunrise, and sunset views are incredibly stunning.

Deer Island, also known as phenomenal pearl, is a secluded spot only a quarter of a mile from the coast of Biloxi, making it the ideal place to kayak, boat, paddleboard, or canoe. It’s your go-to for a beach day without the usual crowds. The island spans 400 acres of unbeatable views, unspoiled sandy beaches, and crystal-clear water, making it perfect for cooling off on scorching hot summer days.

Deer Island, Biloxi, Mississippi, Bird

Deer Island, a quarter of a mile from the Biloxi Coast, has unspoiled sandy beaches and crystal-clear water. Image: Libby O, Shutterstock

©Libby O/Shutterstock.com

The Salvation Army Kroc Center MS Gulf Coast says, “Nothing stops the fun, not even the weather.” The indoor aquatic facility is a family-friendly recreational area with something for everyone. Kids will delight in attractions like Splash Pads and vertical sprays in selected parts of the recreation pool with zero-depth entry. A family water slide with a catch pool is also available at the recreation pool. 

Swimming lessons, aqua aerobics programs, and other activities are held in the lap pool. 

Biloxi Natatorium is an Olympic-sized public swimming pool with various activities, including swimming classes, pool parties, swim meets, and lifeguard training. It also has a patio, bleacher seating, a digitized touchpad/electronic timing system, and dressing rooms.

The photo featured at the top of this post is © iStock.com/Cindy Larson


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About the Author

Alan is a freelance writer and an avid traveler. He specializes in travel content. When he visits home he enjoys spending time with his family Rottie, Opie.

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