The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), a reptile, is a member of the Family Alligatoridae.
Alligator populations reached their lowest levels in the early 1960's due to several factors. However, management and conservation actions by state and federal governments as required by the Endangered Species Act (ESA) allowed the alligator population to increase. They were removed from "total protection" status under the ESA in 1987.
The alligator is now listed as "threatened by similarity of appearance" because of its likeness to other protected crocodilians worldwide. This provides greater flexibility for South Carolina and other southeastern states to manage alligator populations. Today, approximately 100,000 alligators occur in the state of South Carolina.
Alligators are typically found south of the fall line (which roughly traverses the state from I-20 in Aiken to Kershaw County, then up U.S. Highway toward Cheraw in Chesterfield County).
There is no evidence that alligator populations reproduce north of the fall line, and it is suspected that many of the alligators found well above the fall line may have been illegally relocated. However, a small number of individual alligators can naturally show up in these areas.
Alligators usually remain in the area where they were hatched for two to three years before establishing their own range.
Females generally have small home ranges, while males may occupy a home territory of more than 2 square miles. Severe drought or flood conditions may cause alligators to move considerable distances in search of suitable waters.
Alligators occupy a variety of wetland habitats in South Carolina.
They normally are found in marshes, swamps, rivers, farm ponds and lakes in the wild, but also have been found in ditches, neighborhoods, drainage canals, retention ponds, roadways, golf course ponds and sometimes in swimming pools.
Nearly any water body in the Lowcountry has the potential to harbor alligators at one time or another.
During courtship and breeding, from April to May, alligators prefer open waters.
During the remainder of the year, males prefer open and deep waters while females seek out nesting habitat in secluded areas with shallow water and heavy vegetation.
Alligators can live up to 60 years in captivity, but in the wild they rarely live more than 50 years.
Male alligators can presumably grow up to 16 feet in length, although 13-footers are rare, whereas female alligators can grow up to 10 feet.
After breeding, females lay an average of 35 to 40 eggs that incubate for about 65 days. Hatchlings are about 8 to 10 inches in length. About 20 percent of the young will survive to maturity. The others fall victim to predators such as raccoons, birds, snakes, otters and other alligators.
They grow approximately eight to 10 inches per year for the first few years and will reach sexual maturity at about six to seven feet in length. Large alligators can reach weights of over 800 pounds.
Alligators are carnivores and will eat almost anything they can catch.
During the first few years their diet consists mainly of small prey such as snails, crayfish, frogs, insects and other invertebrates.
Alligators are ecologically important.
They help maintain the population balance of certain prey species and they help shape and modify habitat.
During times of severe drought, alligators are known to dig holes ("gator holes") to concentrate water.
This helps the alligator survive, and provides a water source to many other species of plants and animals in the area.
In 1989, the SCDNR initiated a problem alligator program that allows contracted agent trappers to capture and harvest specific problem alligators greater than four feet in length.
A nuisance alligator is one that exhibits aggressive behavior toward humans or domestic animals, has become habituated to people, shows symptoms of some debilitating illness or injury, or inhabits recreational waters intended primarily for swimming.
Agent trappers harvest approximately 250-300 problem alligators annually in South Carolina.
South Carolina's alligator hunting season has been designated as a quota hunt where a limited number of hunters are allowed to harvest one alligator (4 feet or greater in length) each from a specified hunt unit.
The 2011 open season is September 10 through October 8 (2nd Saturday in September - 2nd Saturday in October).
For more information visit: http://www.dnr.sc.gov/wildlife/alligator/index.html
Source: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources