Experience Hilton Head

Warm weather means alligators are on the move

A pair of alligators enjoy the warm weather as they bask on the banks of Lawton Canal in Sea Pines on Hilton Head island.
A pair of alligators enjoy the warm weather as they bask on the banks of Lawton Canal in Sea Pines on Hilton Head island. Staff photo

The American alligator is the only large predator remaining in South Carolina, yet many visitors and residents remain unaware of how to avoid potential conflicts with it. Good judgment and the ability to understand the animals’ behavior are important for avoiding problems. Because alligators are regularly observed lazily basking along water bodies, many people mistakenly assume that they are docile and harmless. Normally, alligators will stay away from humans and pose little threat to them. However, alligators should never be approached and should never be fed — it's dangerous and illegal. An alligator's predatory nature and potentially large size demands respect. Here are a few facts and myths about these Lowcountry critters from the South Carolina Parks. To learn more, go to www.southcarolinaparks.com.

Common myths and truths about alligators

Myth: Alligators will chase people.

Fact: Bigger gators shy more readily. That's how they lived to be so big. Most alligators that are lounging on the edge of the water will retreat at the approach of humans. 

Myth: You should run zigzag if you come across an alligator.

Fact: This is a common misconception. First, it is rare for an alligator to pursue a human because humans are too large to be suitable prey. However, if an alligator does make an aggressive charge, run fast and straight (away from the alligator, of course). They usually do not run very far. But remember they are most likely to charge at you if you are near their nest.

Myth: Alligators have poor eyesight.

Fact: Alligators actually have very good eyesight, which is an important adaptation for hunting. They are especially adapted to see and sense movement of potential prey animals. The position of their eyes on their head (almost on the side) gives them a wide sight range. The only place they cannot see is right behind them.

Myth: Alligators are not good climbers.

Fact: Alligators have sharp claws and powerful tails to help them push their bodies up. Young alligators are agile climbers and adults have been known to climb fences to get to water or escape captivity. Low fences, therefore, may not be sufficient protection for pets in areas where alligators are present.

Myth: Alligators make good pets.

Fact: Alligators make terrible pets. Although baby alligators may seem like a cool pet, it is illegal to possess or take an alligator without the proper licenses and permits from the SCDNR. Alligators are purely instinctual hunters and do not show affection. Unlike cats and dogs, alligators will never love the hand that feeds them.)


• Most alligator problems occur between early March and July, which is the breeding season. At this time of year, they also tend to be more visible because they want to get out of the cold water and warm up in the sunshine.

• Alligators should retreat into the water at the approach of humans. If the alligator lets you get close without showing defensive action, it is demonstrating problem behavior.

• Never feed or entice alligators — it’s dangerous and illegal. When fed, alligators begin to associate people with food. Also, do not feed any wildlife in or near the water. This could entice an alligator. 

• Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore it is best to swim during daylight hours. Large alligators feed most actively during the evening hours.

• Don’t let pets swim, drink from or run along the shore of water that might contain alligators. 

• Observe and photograph alligators from a distance.