The American Alligator

One of the more famous attractions on Hilton Head Island is the American alligator. A relic of Pre-Historic times, on Hilton Head Island he has found a very safe atmosphere where he can prosper.

Alligators range along the Coastal Plain north to Virginia, southeast to Florida and west to the eastern coast of Texas. They also are found up the Mississippi River as far north as Arkansas and Oklahoma.

He belongs to the order Crocodilia and is in the family Alligatoridae, making up the genus Alligator. He is less vicious than the Crocodile and does not generally include people in his food list, as a crocodile does.

Their massive bodies are covered in an armor of horny scales. The male reaches an average length of 12 feet and 500 lbs. The female reaches an average length of 9 feet and 160 lbs. The broad, flat head contains powerful jaws each set with 40 teeth. The jaws exert 3000 lbs. of pressure. The large, round, protruding eyes are yellow and close to slits in bright sunlight. The body from nose to hind legs represents 1/3rd of the over all length. His short legs enable him to cover land surprisingly fast and he can out run most humans for the first 50 yds. (Run in a zig zag pattern if you are ever in the unfortunate position of being chased.) Their feet are webbed and are well suited for life on soft marshes and lagoons. The tail, making up 2/3rds of the body helps their swimming and self-defense.

Alligators feed on anything in the water or on land that they can catch and swallow. Favorite meals consist of small fish, small snakes, crabs, frogs small turtles, ducks, muskrats, raccoons, rabbits, small deer and small dogs – owners beware!!! Victims are dragged underwater and drowned before being consumed.

Audible sounds the alligator makes consist of UMPH,UMPH,UMPH, made at the time the alligator hatches. HISSSSSSSSS, denotes anger or a feeling of being threatened. If you hear this, move away from the area immediately. (Remember always observe them from a respectful distance.) BELLOW!!!, is the loudest sound heard, mostly during the mating season of April, May, June. This sound is also heard when bulls challenge one another.

Females produce young by laying eggs in nests built of leaves, twigs pinestraw, mud, etc. The nest ranges in size from 4-6 feet wide and 2-3 feet high. The newborn are 9″ when hatched. Mothers are very protective. Out of the original 50 eggs laid 10 may survive. Predators are raccoons, opossums, and large birds. They occasionally eat their own. The young remain vulnerable for the 1st year. Alligators grow about 1 foot per year.

Dens are built under the lagoon banks. The entrance is 1 to 2 feet under the water surface. The alligators spend the cold months in their dens emerging to sun themselves on the banks when the air temperature is warmer than the water. They breath at regular intervals (@ 14 min.) by poking their nose through the den opening.

At night they travel from lagoon to lagoon looking for food and love. On 5/8/2009, a Sea Pines Security Guard was on his way to work the midnight shift in Sea Pines Plantation. On Route 170 in Jasper County, he hit an Alligator crossing the highway, careened head-on into a Greyhound bus and was instantly killed. The Alligator was also killed. No one on the Bus was injured. Drivers after dark must always be on the alert for Alligators on the roads.

Their life span can reach 50 years.

DO NOT FEED THE ALLIGATORS!!! They will lose their fear of humans and can be potentially dangerous. When they become curious of humans they pose a real danger and then must be removed. They will be relocated or killed.

Once an endangered species, the alligator has rebounded to healthy numbers today. On Hilton Head Island he has found perfect conditions. This provides residents and visitors alike a fascinating natural attraction. Be careful to respect him.

This is what Alligators looks like at Christmas on Hilton Head Island: