In Mississippi, alligators are just a fact of life. In fact, the American alligator’s scientific name is actually Alligator mississippiensis. There are only two species of alligator in the world, the American alligator, and its smaller, critically endangered cousin, the Chinese alligator. American alligators live across the coastal southeastern United States; they can be found as far north as North Carolina, and as far west as Texas’s Rio Grande River. But, just how many alligators live in Mississippi?
Here, we’ll learn all about alligators, starting with where they live, and what they look like. We’ll discover just how many alligators live in Mississippi, and which state has the largest population of alligators. Finally, we’ll find out why you should exercise extreme caution when in alligator territory, and how to stay safe around these incredible apex predators.
Alligators belong to the Crocodilia order of reptiles. This order also includes all crocodiles (including saltwater crocodiles and Nile crocodiles), caimans, gharials, and false gharials. Alligators are distinct from other crocodilians in a number of ways, including their native range and appearance.
Range and Habitat
Alligators are large, semi-aquatic, carnivorous reptiles. They’re native to the lowland fresh waters of the southeastern United States. Though alligators may swim in salt water briefly, they can’t tolerate it, and never live in salty water. Instead, they frequent lakes, rivers, ponds, marshes, wetlands, and even irrigation canals.
Alligators are found throughout the states of Florida and Louisiana. They’re present in roughly the southern half of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Arkansas. Further, alligators live in a small part of southeastern Oklahoma, as well as coastal Texas, North Carolina, and South Carolina.
Size and Appearance
American alligators grow up to 15 feet long, though most are between 8-12 feet long. Babies are dark brown or green, with bright yellow stripes on their tails. Adults are brownish green, with black stripes on the tail.
Alligators can easily be distinguished from crocodiles by their teeth and snouts. When an alligator closes its mouth, only its top teeth remain visible; the bottom ones are covered. Further, alligators have “U” shaped snouts, whereas crocodiles have “V” shaped snouts.
Mississippi’s Alligator Population
According to the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks, there are an estimated 32,000-38,000 alligators living in the state. In fact, there are so many alligators in Mississippi that the state created an alligator management program known as the Alligator Management and Control Project. The goal of this project is both to educate residents and visitors to the state about alligators, and to deal with nuisance alligators. Due to the nature of surveying a dynamic population of animals, it is highly likely that there are even more alligators in the state than estimates indicate.
Where Do Alligators Mostly Live in Mississippi?
There are over 400,000 acres of suitable alligator habitat in Mississippi, all in the southern part of the state. Researchers estimate that Jackson County has the most alligators, with Rankin and Hancock Counties also having high numbers of alligators. There are 14 counties in northern Mississippi with no reported alligators at all.
Which State Has the Most Alligators?
With almost 40,000 alligators, it might seem like Mississippi has more of these scaly reptilians than any other state. In fact, Louisiana and Florida are tied as the states with the highest populations of alligators. Louisiana has an estimated 2 million alligators, while Florida has an estimated 1.3 million.
Are Alligators Dangerous?
As large, carnivorous, apex predators, adult alligators pose a threat to both people and pets. Their prey typically consists of turtles, fish, amphibians, and small mammals. But, alligators are opportunistic hunters who won’t turn down a chance to eat. So, whenever you’re in alligator territory, it’s always wise to practice caution.
Staying Safe Around Alligators
Alligator safety starts with having a healthy respect for these ancient predators. Alligators typically lie in wait in murky water, but may also be encountered on dry land, where they can run surprisingly fast. If you’re checking out alligator country, remember to stay at least 10 feet back from the water—this goes for pets too. Never feed alligators, and if you find a nest, move away immediately, as females will defend their eggs. Finally, never go swimming or wading in waters known to contain large alligators.
Now you know how many alligators live in Mississippi, and how to stay safe around them!
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Ernie Hounshell/Shutterstock.com
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