Discover the Biggest Alligator Ever Found in North Carolina

American Alligator, (Alligator mississippiensis)
TimVickers, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Updated: August 31, 2023

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Key Points:
  • Believe it or not, there are populations of alligators as far north as North Carolina, inhabiting the southeastern corner along the coast and the Outer Banks.
  • The average size of an alligator is 10-12 feet long, weighing 400-500 pounds.
  • There are a very limited amount of hunting permits issued each year to hunt alligators. In 2018, the number of permits only amounted to 20.

When you think about alligators, the states of Florida and Louisiana may come to mind. But what about elsewhere? Are there alligators in North Carolina? Yes, there are. The state is actually the northern edge of their range with populations living in the southeastern corner along the coast and even in the Outer Banks.

The largest alligator ever seen in North Carolina was hit by a car. Its estimated weight was 635 lbs.

While the largest alligators seem to thrive in warmer climates, with some getting to be 13-14 feet or more, there have been some big alligators found in North Carolina. Read on to find out about the biggest alligator ever found in North Carolina.

How Big Are Average Alligators?

American alligator chilling

An average alligator is 10-12 feet long.

An average alligator is 10-12 feet long when fully grown. Males are larger than females and can weigh 400-500 pounds. Think about the length of your living room couch, probably 7-8 feet long. Alligators are a few feet longer than that!

It’s important to note that North Carolina is at the northern end of the American alligator’s range. While they’ve been spotted as far north as the Great Dismal Swamp, alligators generally don’t live in Virginia. In fact, while South Carolina has an alligator population that’s north of 100,000, it’s estimated there are only about 1,000 alligators in North Carolina. Because of its more northerly latitude, North Carolina alligators generally don’t reach the same size as in Florida or other states with warmer weather that better suits these cold-blooded reptiles.

And with that question “Are there alligators in North Carolina?” out of the way, it’s time to ask another:

Are There Alligators at the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina?

Yes. There is a 152,000 acre wildlife refuge, the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge where researchers are studying the alligator population. The refuge also provides a safe ecosystem for black bears, river otters, wintering waterfowl, and the endangered red wolves.

How Big Was the Biggest Alligator Ever Found in North Carolina?

Florida man catches a gator

The biggest alligator ever found in North Carolina weighed 635 pounds.

The largest alligator ever found in North Carolina was a 635-pound alligator that was hit by a car in Manns Harbor in May 2014. Various reports of the alligator quoted it as large as 800 pounds, but as is common in reports of large alligators, their size tends to be overestimated. A biologist brought in to examine the alligator estimated its age at 50 to 80 years old. Alligators continue growing throughout their lives, so the largest individuals are often very advanced in age.

What other massive alligators could challenge for the title of largest alligator in North Carolina?

Another large alligator found in North Carolina was a 12-foot-long alligator found in Jacksonville, NC in July 2013. This massive gator weighed 500 pounds! Unfortunately, this alligator wasn’t caught by a hunting party, it had to be put down because it ate a woman’s dog. Not a small dog, like a little Yorkie or Chihuahua, but an 80-pound husky! The woman was out walking with her dog by the Brooks Gruber Bridge when she says the alligator snatched her poor dog.

The Jacksonville Police Department was called in to find the alligator and put it down. Due to its size and proximity to humans, they did not want to relocate. It didn’t take the officers too long to find the alligator and authorities reported that they did find remains of the husky inside the gator.

Can You Hunt Alligators in North Carolina?

When there are incidents like the poor husky getting killed in Jacksonville, authorities take note of the number of human-animal conflicts and will sometimes issue hunting permits. In 2018, the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission announced that it would allow limited hunting of alligators in North Carolina. Like other wildlife management organizations, they keep a population count of animals and weigh the numbers to decide how many permits to issue each year. There are very few issued in North Carolina, limiting the hunting to three targeted areas in Hyde County. 20 permits were issued in 2018.

Can You Hunt Alligators in South Carolina?

Yes, there is an alligator hunting season in South Carolina. For avid hunters that are looking for the biggest alligators, hunters from North Carolina can apply for a non-resident tag to hunt in South Carolina (there is an extra $200 fee for the non-resident tag, but many hunters feel it’s worth it.)

According to state legislation, you will need a federal tag if you intend to sell the hide. This is to prevent the illegal trade in the hide of endangered reptiles that are similar in appearance.

Very few licenses are issued each year to hunt alligators in North Carolina, but there’s a designated hunting season yearly in South Carolina.

Two North Carolina Men Caught an Almost 12-Foot Alligator in South Carolina

Two hunters from North Carolina thought it was worth it to pay the extra $200 when they caught an 11 foot 11 ½ inch alligator in Santee, South Carolina. Chris Skibo and Brandon Dockery took their time during their hunt. They set aside a full week at Blacks Camp so they would have time to scout the area and locate the largest gators.

On October 5, 2019, day 5 of their hunt, they located a large gator that they thought was at least 12 feet. The gator submerged underwater and they waited for an hour for it to come back up. Seeing it again they followed it and dropped their lines. Luckily they snagged it and then used a heavier bow line to snag it again. After a struggle, they were able to pull the gator to the boat where they killed it. Official measurements had the alligator just ½ inch shorter than 12 feet.

Alligators in the News in North Carolina

1) “Honey, Did You Get the Mail?”

In Oak Island, NC folks had to wait to check the mail because a good-sized alligator had plopped itself down right behind the residential mailboxes. The incident that happened in May 2021 was reported to authorities. It was estimated that the alligator was around 10 feet long. Oak Island is in Gator country, located on the southern coast near Bald Head Island.

2) “I’m Going for a Swim… Wait, Maybe Not!”

On June 28, 2022, in Leland, NC a homeowner found an alligator swimming in their backyard pool. Leland is a western suburb of Wilmington, so still in the range of the alligator, but it is uncommon for alligators in this area to venture into residential areas. Authorities were able to remove the alligator from the pool and take it away.

3) “This Spot is Taken!”

On June 5, 2022 a woman looking for a place to spend the day at a beach in Fort Fisher came across a 5-foot alligator sunning itself in the sand. Brandi Anderson, who found the gator, was able to keep her distance but also snap some photos. Park rangers advised that if people gave the alligator space, it likely wouldn’t bother them.

Are Alligators Dangerous?

Alligators are capable of attacking and killing a human. But alligator attacks are rare and fatalities are extremely rare.

Yes, alligators can be dangerous. They are large meat-eating reptiles that are capable of killing humans. Alligator-human conflicts do occur but are rarely deadly. Alligators avoid humans when they can. Authorities remind people to never feed alligators because then they can get used to humans and lose their natural fear. Maybe that is what happened in a case of a June 2022 alligator attack in Myrtle Beach.

What Happened in the June 2022 Alligator Attack in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina?

Unfortunately, on June 24, 2022 a 75-year-old man was dragged into a retention pond at the Myrtle Beach Golf and Yacht Club. Witnesses watched as the man was standing next to a pond when the alligator suddenly grabbed him and dragged him to a nearby pond. The Horry County Fire Rescue was called in but it was too late and the man was killed during the incident. Authorities reminded people that this really is an isolated incident with alligator attacks on humans being extremely rare. The police and the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources are still looking into the details of the accident.

Where Else Do Alligators Live in the U.S.?

In addition to North Carolina, alligators are found in 9 other states in the United States. These are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas.

The highest populations of alligators are found in Florida and Louisiana. Find out more about where alligators live in North America here.

Alligators vs Crocodiles

How can you tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? It can be easy to confuse the two species because they both come from the Crocodilia order, but they differ when it comes to their size, color, and shape of their snout.

Alligators tend to be smaller, measuring between 8.2 to 11.2 feet long and weighing from 400 to 800 pounds on average. Crocodiles generally are 10 to 20 feet long and weigh 300 to 2,000 pounds. The saltwater crocodile, the biggest reptile on Earth, can weigh in at more than 4,000 pounds.

While alligators are normally black or gray on top and have a cream-colored underside, crocodiles are mostly olive green or light brown with a mottled pattern. An alligator’s snout is “U-shaped” and shorter than that of a crocodile, which has a V-shaped snout.

Additionally, alligators are native to only two countries: the U.S. and China, where alligators are now close to extinction. Crocodiles can be found in Africa, Asia, Australia, and North and South America.

Learn about other differences between alligators and crocodiles, and who would win in a fight here.

How Long Do Alligators Live?

Unlike many animals, alligators do not show signs of biological aging but simply grow in size over the years.

Alligators typically live around 30 to 50 years in the wild. In captivity, alligators often live longer, up to 70 years or more.

The most common causes of death include being hunted (for their meat, organs, and skin), habitat loss, and their natural waters and food sources becoming contaminated by pesticides and fertilizers. Alligators can also be killed by other gators.

See more information about an alligator’s lifespan here.


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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