- Both Louisiana and Florida have warm climates and ample freshwater marshes, wetlands, and swamps to provide perfect habitats for large alligator populations.
- With over four million acres of perfect swampy alligator habit, Louisiana has the most alligators of any state – numbering around two million.
- Florida only has 1.4 million acres of wetlands and a much larger human population engaged in more land development – yet it is still home to 1.2 million alligators.
Alligators dwell in the southeastern United States, from North Carolina to eastern Texas. However, Florida and Louisiana outmatch any of the other states as far as the number of alligators is concerned. But which state is more alligator-infested?
Alligators vs. Crocodiles
People often confuse alligators with crocodiles, which is an honest mistake! But there are a few key features you can look for to help you distinguish between the two.
First, you can identify an alligator by its wide, round snout. Crocodiles, on the other hand, have skinny, pointed snouts.
Second, alligators are brownish-gray and like to live in freshwater areas, such as rivers, lakes, canals, and swamps. Crocodiles, however, are grayish-green in color and prefer coastal, saltwater homes like estuaries and brackish wetlands.
A third identifier is that only the upper teeth are visible when an alligator closes its mouth. This is because an alligator’s upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw. But when a crocodile shuts its mouth, both its upper and lower teeth poke out.
Because of their water preferences, alligators and crocodiles rarely run into each other, except for the southern region of Florida. So, one of the easiest ways of knowing if you’re looking at an alligator or a crocodile is to know what kind of water you are by. And because Louisiana and Florida have ample freshwater marshes, wetlands, and swamps, it’s no wonder they have large alligator populations. But one state, in particular, is more infested with alligators than the other.
Alligators can grow up to 11.2 feet long and weigh almost 1,000 pounds. They are fierce carnivores and will eat almost any meat, be it birds, fish, small mammals, or even other reptiles. In addition, their rough skin provides excellent camouflage in the water, as it makes them look like floating logs or driftwood. This helps alligators sneak up on their prey.
Alligators can’t regulate their temperature internally. They are ectothermic creatures, which means their body temperature changes based on their external environment. Thus, alligators take advantage of the sun to warm up and the water to cool down.
It makes sense why Louisiana and Florida are the most popular states for alligators. The sun, mild weather, and warm temperatures are all perfect for alligators. Several factors, however, contribute to why one state is more infested with alligators than the other.
Alligator Activity in the Most Infested States
Alligators are most active when temperatures are between 82°F to 92°F. They grow inactive when temperatures are below 70°F, and they become sluggish below 55°F. When temperatures get this low, alligators dig long tunnels in the mud (filled with water) called “burrows.” Some burrows can be as long as 65 feet. Throughout the winter, alligators will spend most of their time in these burrows, coming out to warm themselves on milder days.
Throughout the months of April until June, alligators are particularly active in Florida and Louisiana because that’s mating season. While male alligators will mate with several females during the season, females will only have one mate. Then, a female will lay anywhere from 10-50 eggs at a time, covering the eggs with mud, sticks, and foliage to protect the eggs. The eggs won’t hatch until mid-August to September, making the area busy again with alligator hatchlings.
Which State Is More Alligator Infested?
Florida has about 1.2 million alligators, whereas Louisiana has about two million. So, Louisiana is easily the winner when it comes to which state is more alligator-infested. But why does Louisiana have so many alligators?
One of the reasons is due to state size. Louisiana has over four million acres of swamps, lakes, and marshes which are perfect for alligator living. Florida only has 1.4 million acres of wetlands. Florida also has a human population of 21.78 million (compared to Louisiana with 4.62 million), so contractors are constantly expanding urban developments in Florida to accommodate the growing population. This means livable areas for alligators are shrinking.
Another reason why Louisiana is the state with more alligator infestation is because of alligator farming. Selling alligator meat and leather made from tanned alligator skin is a huge industry in Louisiana. But because of the overhunting in the 1950s, the alligator population was in danger. The Louisiana government took measures to protect alligators and regulate hunting, so they didn’t lose this reptile. Thus, alligator farms popped up to supply these industries instead.
Besides Louisiana and Florida, here are the 10 most alligator-infested states in order. The states in the top five might shock you.
Avoiding Attacks in Alligator-Infested States
Alligators are ambush predators, and because of their size, it takes a lot of energy to chase down prey. And as far as prey goes, humans are too costly. We can swim and run, and we have arms and legs to fight back. An alligator would rather target something smaller.
In fact, between 1948 to 2021, there were only 442 unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida. Of those incidents, only 26 resulted in deaths, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Louisiana has only had two alligator bites recorded between 1972-1994, according to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Wildlife Damage Management.
It’s fairly easy to avoid alligator attacks, and the best defense is education. Alligators are pretty shy and will avoid humans. However, if you stumble upon an alligator, and it starts to hiss, this is a warning to back off.
Knowing when alligators are most active will help you avoid meeting one. As mentioned previously, alligators mate sometime between April-June, and alligator babies hatch around August-September. Female alligators protect their nests most aggressively during the hatching months, so give them a lot of space. Once temperatures get to 82°F, alligators become nocturnal, so be cautious during night walks and avoid swimming.
If You Are Attacked…
In case of an attack, you must put up a fight! If an alligator senses that it can’t easily overpower its prey, it will generally let go and retreat. When you attack, target these sensitive areas on the alligator: eyes, top of the skull, or side of the jaw. Also, you can trigger the gag reflex in an alligator by shoving things to the back of its throat, giving you a chance to get out of its grip. Get to land as soon as you can, as alligators have the advantage in the water. Run in a straight line to get away: experts disproved that running in zigzags slows the alligator down. After you escape, seek medical attention right away, as alligator bites have a high rate of infection.
Why We Need Alligators
Alligators provide many benefits to the local ecosystem. For one, they keep the smaller animal populations from getting out of control. Small mammals, such as rodents, breed frequently, and the food supply can’t keep up with their explosive populations. Without predators like the alligator keeping them in check, small mammals overrun wetlands and marshes.
The alligator’s burrows and mud holes provide homes to several types of fish and birds. During dry spells, fresh water collects in these “gator holes” and acts as sanctuaries for aquatic life. The fresh water in the gator holes also serves as a place for animals to drink and find food.
Alligators help many species of birds as well. Raccoons prey on the eggs and hatchlings of bird nests. If there weren’t alligators regulating the raccoon population, raccoons would devastate the reproduction cycle of several species of birds. Fewer birds mean more insects, which are already ample in Louisiana and Florida. Clearly, alligators are an important player in the overall ecosystem!
Thus, state senators wrote laws to protect these great reptiles. It is illegal to kill an alligator in Florida, and conservationists work hard to educate residents and visitors about alligator habits. Education helps everyone co-exist with alligators. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries has an alligator management program that is internationally recognized. The department carefully regulates licenses for alligator hunting and alligator farms.
In both states, alligators are considered a crucial part of the habitat and are protected as such.
When looking at which state is more alligator-infested, Louisiana is the clear winner. But, both states work hard to protect their alligators, and thanks to preservation efforts, their alligator populations are thriving. Alligators contribute many good things to the ecosystem, and if you understand their behavioral patterns, they are easy creatures to live alongside.
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