The alligator is native only to China, Mexico, and the United States. Gators in the United States were hunted almost to extinction, but they are now thriving. Many states have even turned these big, scaly monsters into tourist attractions. If you want to see American alligators, here are the states where you’ll have the best chances to see them in the scaly, scary flesh.
Which States Have Alligators?
Alligators (Alligator mississippensis) are native to the southeastern states, which is where they find the warm, humid marshes that are their preferred habitat. The states with the most alligators are Louisiana, Florida, and Alabama. Here’s a complete rundown.
There are gators in every part of Louisiana. The state has one million wild alligators and another million on alligator farms. It has more alligators than any other state. It is also the only state where you can see rare white alligators, which are native to Louisiana. They are not albinos. They are gators who have leucism, which has led to the loss of pigmentation.
Alligators are in every county in Florida, and they are apex predators in the Everglades. Gainesville, Florida, has the highest number of alligators in one city. People in Florida have learned to share the wild with these massive predators. Southern Florida is also the only place on earth where alligators and crocodiles live together.
The southern parts of Alabama have swamplands and marshes that have plenty of gators. After Florida and Louisiana, it has the most alligators of any state.
Other states have them in specific regions. North Carolina, South Carolina, and Mississippi have alligators in their coastal areas. Southern Georgia, eastern Texas, and the southeast tip of Oklahoma all have alligators. There is a small population in Arkansas.
What Is Their Population in North America?
There are about five million alligators in the U.S. Two million are in Louisiana, more than one million are in Florida, and the rest live among the other states.
Where Can You See Alligators in North America?
These critters have become popular tourist attractions. You can see them through privately-owned “adventure” outings, in their natural habitats, or zoos.
- Adventures of Jean Lafitte is a wonderful way to tour the dense, mysterious swamplands of Louisiana. This guided ride on a pontoon boat takes you deep into the bayou to experience one of the strangest, most intriguing ecosystems in the world.
- Airboat Adventures is a Louisiana swamp tour. Ride through the expansive cypress swamps and get close to all the exotic wildlife. Take your choice of an airboat or pontoon boat adventure that will bring you close to wildlife.
- Alligator Alley in Summerdale, Alabama, is a gator farm that’s home to over 200 alligators. You can see alligators at all their life stages, from little newborns to full-grown adults. You can view them safely from an elevated nature walk. If you’re feeling braver, you can hold a baby gator or feed a big one.
- Gulf Coast Gator Ranch in Moss Point, Mississippi, offers swamp boat tours. Board an airboat and take a tour of the Grand Bay wetlands. Use the elevated walkways to walk around the gator swamps and hand feed the beasts. Tour the 105-acre alligator ranch to learn more about these amazing creatures.
- Gator Boys Alligator Rescue in Florida is located inside the Everglades Holiday Park. The rescue picks up nuisance alligators from locations in southern Florida and gives them a safe place to live. It’s also a fun place to see gators. The park offers a guided airboat tour that will take you close to many unique Florida animals.
- Alligator Attraction is another Florida adventure. This Madeira Beach refuge is home to dozens of crocodiles, lizards, and other reptiles and amphibians. The animals are mostly rescues, animals that can’t return to the wild, or animals abandoned by their owners. They promise you’ll get so close to wildlife you can “kiss a gator.”
The following zoos all have American alligators as part of their exhibits:
- Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington, D.C.
- North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro.
- Potawatomi Zoo in South Bend, Indiana.
- St. Louis Zoo in Missouri.
- Zoo New England in Boston.
- Abilene Zoo in Texas.
The Abilene Zoo’s residents include Albert, who may be the oldest living American alligator in captivity. These animals are known for having a long lifespan, but Albert’s is still impressive.
He has been at the zoo since 1966. Albert is a beloved local favorite. In June 2021, he went through a medical examination to determine why he was allergic and not eating. In July, the zoo announced he had a clean bill of health and was going to be part of the zoo’s 55th-anniversary celebration.
Nature Parks and Conservancies
Many states have state parks and wildlife refuges where you can see these creatures in their natural habitat. They are as follows:
- Gulf State Park in Alabama is home to several alligator families. The park holds Alligator Adventures, a yearly event that allows visitors to learn more about these animals.
- Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina is home to many wild creatures, including migratory birds, black bears, marsh birds and alligators.
- Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge is just a few miles from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The best way to see gators here is with a drive that allows you to see them from the safety of your car.
- The Savannah River National Wildlife Refuge borders Georgia and South Carolina. It is a 31,000-acre expanse of marshes, tidal rivers and creeks. It features abundant wildlife of all kinds.
Where To See Chinese Alligators
Metro Zoo in Miami, the St. Louis Zoo, and the Smithsonian Zoo also have Chinese alligators.
Is It Safe To See Alligators?
Yes, it’s safe, but it’s important to follow all safety precautions. Go with an experienced, guided tour operator. Stay in designated areas only, and only handle or feed the animals under the guide’s instructions.
The Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission have written safety tips for visiting state parks that have live alligators. Here are some of their tips.
- Swimming: Only swim in areas designated as safe. Most swimming areas in public parks close at dusk, which is when gators are more likely to be active.
- Keep a distance: Remain at least 30 feet away from alligators. If it hisses at you, it’s a warning that you’re getting too close.
- Pets: Most pets are ideal prey for these animals. Keep them leashed and away from the water. Alligator attacks have occurred on people walking with their pets. It’s best to leave pets at home.
- Feeding: Never feed alligators you see in the wild. In Florida, feeding a wild alligator is a misdemeanor crime.
- Report nuisance alligators: These are gators that get used to receiving food from humans. If an alligator walks toward you, especially if it comes out of the water, it may be asking for food. Report this to a park employee.
- Basking alligators: Many alligators sun themselves by basking on riverbanks. They may do this with their mouths open to cool themselves. When they bask, they are not actively hunting. If you don’t disturb them, you can watch them safely.
- Nests: If you get too close to an alligator nest, the female will defend it. Stay away from piles of mud that look like nests, and don’t go near groups of small alligators. They may be cute, but their mother’s reaction won’t be fun.
What Do Alligators Eat?
In the wild, they eat a wide variety of animals. In captivity, farmworkers usually feed them rats, rabbits, and other small animals. Many alligator farms and refuges also feed them processed food pellets.
Do Alligators Have Nests?
Some alligators make nests out of grasses, mud, and decomposing plants. Using these materials helps hide the alligator’s eggs. Others just lay their eggs in a grassy spot near the water.
After mating, the female builds the nest using her whole body. She uses her tail to make the initial clearing and then uses her powerful jaws to drag mud and plants to the nest. Once it’s done, she lays from 20 to 50 eggs and covers them with grass to incubate them. She usually stays close to the nest until the eggs hatch. Many predators try to eat alligator eggs.
After about 60 days, the babies begin to make squealing noises from inside their eggs. This lets the mother know they’re ready to be born. The eggs crack, and the hatchlings come out. Baby alligators are born with an “egg tooth” they use to tear open the eggs. Each baby is about six inches long. Despite the mother’s fierce protectiveness, up to 80% of her babies will end up as food for birds, raccoons, otters, snakes, and even other gators. Those that survive will enjoy a long lifespan of about 40 years.
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Are alligators dangerous to humans?
They can cause serious injuries to humans, but unprovoked attacks are rare. You are more likely to die from a car accident, poison or a fall than you are from an alligator attack. There are about 56 deaths each year from hornet and wasp stings, and there is one death a year from an alligator attack.
That said, even if the attack isn’t fatal, it can cause a lot of damage. According to the Florida Fish and Wish Wildlife Conservation Commission, there were 12 gator attacks on humans in 2020. Of these, 8 resulted in major damage, and 4 caused minor damage. None were fatal.
Are they a protected species?
Alligators and crocodiles are protected under most state and national laws. States with high numbers of alligators permit controlled hunting and the use of farms. Once hunted almost to extinction, they enjoy a healthy population now. Conservationists removed alligators from the Endangered Species List in 1987.
What is a gator hole?
A gator hole is the space an alligator carves out for itself on the banks of a river or pond. It fills up with water and becomes an important water source for birds, fish, snakes, turtles and other animals.
Why do people love alligators?
There are many reasons they fascinate us. Their tremendous strength, immense size and powerful bite make them one of the most fearsome predators in the animal kingdom. They are ancient, prehistoric beasts who have survived for 200 million years. Their long lifespan is also impressive. They are surprisingly good, caring mothers to their young.
There are many reasons to respect these reptiles, and seeing them live is an unforgettable experience. Just remember to keep a safe distance.