Should You Be Afraid of Alligators in North Carolina?

Should You Be Afraid of Alligators in North Carolina?

They are big, scary-looking and in the news. But even if alligator sightings are on the rise, actual alligator attacks are uncommon, and deadly attacks are rare. So should you be afraid of alligators in North Carolina?

Perhaps. Alligators are certainly capable of killing people. They’ve killed 28 people in the US since 1970. The crazy thing?  You are FAR more likely to be attacked and die from a bee or wasp sting. Like snakes, alligators will usually keep to themselves if you don’t provoke them.

North Carolina wetlands provide abundant natural habitats to alligators.

The many waterways of southeastern North Carolina provide abundant habitats for alligators. They thrive in wetlands and brackish, marshy areas. But despite reports of young alligators in the surf, these big reptiles can’t live in the ocean. It is far too salty.

Ironically, human development has proved friendly to the alligator population. It also contributes to human-alligator encounters. When people and communities spread into less populated areas, we often add water features like ponds, canals, causeways ,and golf-courses. To alligators, these are great new habitats to share with us.

Alligator on the move.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

But don’t worry. You won’t find native alligators in North Carolina’s biggest growth areas. Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad are all well outside the alligator’s normal range. These places are the wrong habitat: they are too cold and too far inland for the species.

Exploring North Carolina waterways? Know your alligator basics.

What if you’re heading out to explore North Carolina’s scenic waterways this fall? Surely then you should be afraid of alligators in North Carolina? No, not really. Not if you understand and respect them. Here’s what you need to know about alligators.

Alligator on the alert.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Alligators are ancient cold-blooded reptiles. That means they are only active in the warm months of the year. Once the weather cools, they retreat into burrows (alligator holes) and you aren’t likely to see them again till spring.

Alligator Tip 1: Cold days are the perfect time to explore North Carolina’s wetlands and waterways alligator-free.

Alligators don’t seek out and stalk humans as food. They are opportunistic predators, whose normal diet consists of fish, amphibians and small mammals.  That means alligators eat what’s available. But alligators don’t have the thinking capability needed to hunt humans — despite what the movies might suggest.

Alligator nest with baby.
Image by skeeze from Pixabay.

Alligators will attack if threatened. You don’t want to startle or threaten an alligator — it will defend itself. More importantly, one sure way to provoke an alligator attack is to threaten a nest or the newly-hatched young. Momma alligators are absolutely ferocious in protecting their young, typically born between mid-August and early September.

If you see a gator, pass on that selfie.

A riled-up alligator can move with explosive speed. That photo op may be tempting, but take a rain check. If you encounter an alligator, stay calm and stay far away. Don’t run, don’t shout and absolutely don’t creep in for a better look.

Alligator Tip 2: Keep at least 50 feet away from any large alligator. That’s about the length of 2 school buses.

Definitely don’t feed alligators, no matter how small. All alligators, even the nine-inch babies, are predators. Feeding alligators invites them to come to places where they might encounter humans. And regular feeding reduces their natural wariness of people. Although alligators typically shy away from us grown humans, our pets just might look like food.

Alligator Tip 3: Keep pets on a leash around known alligator habitats.

Alligator Jaws
Image by Linda Saayman from Pixabay 

Finally, don’t chase or shoot them. In fact, over short distances alligators can outrun the average person. NC has licensed animal control agents who can safely remove an alligator that has been deemed a problem. Contact wildlife control for assistance if you encounter an alligator.

Learn more North Carolina’s wild creatures if you’re curious. And if you’re heading out into the outdoors this fall, make sure you have our pro tips for North Carolina locations!