One glance at their sharp teeth, hard scales, and impressive size may be enough to transport you right back to the time of the dinosaurs. Believe it or not, these prehistoric-looking creatures are occasionally found in our local waterways (typically near Spring Creek). They can also be found throughout the southern part of the United States, from east Texas all the way to the Carolinas, and always near or in fresh water, such as swamps, rivers, bayous, creeks, and marshes. Let’s learn a bit more about these cold-blooded critters, how our ecosystem benefits from them and what to do if you spot one.
- Alligators can run up to 35 miles an hour for short distances.
- Adult alligators can hold their breath underwater up to 45 minutes.
- They don’t require as much food as you think. In the summer, an adult alligator may only eat once or twice a week.
- The largest alligator harvested in Texas was a male measuring 14’ 4”, taken in Jackson County.
Let’s get acquainted
Alligators boast the title of the largest reptile in North America; alligators in Texas are rarely more than 10’ with a maximum weight of 250-300 pounds. While it may seem that their hard, coarse scales are merely for looks or intimidation, they actually provide protection against water loss. Alligators lay large clutches of eggs, and the sex of the hatchlings is determined by ambient air temperatures during their 90-day incubation period; cooler temperatures produce mostly females while warmer temperatures produce mostly males. The hatchlings are approximately 9 inches long and will stay with their mom for up to two years.
What do they eat?
As top predators in freshwater systems, these reptiles eat fish, turtles, small mammals, birds, and even other alligators. Their powerful jaw muscles have incredible force, about 300 pounds per square inch! Perfect for cracking through a turtle shell, which is important because alligators don’t have molars to crush or grind their food. Instead, they have 80 conical shaped teeth, which are replaced as they fall out. An alligator may go through 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
Their long, strong tails help them rapidly propel through the water to capture their prey. They have excellent sight, smell and hearing and are very good at stalking prey without being seen.
Non-food items, such as glass bottles, brass objects, fishing line and wood are frequently consumed by alligators. Please remember that littering has a devasting impact on wildlife. Learn more from wildlife biologist Abbie Ince-Hendrickson, who shares what was found in the stomach of gators she studied in Rockefeller Wildlife Refuge.
Why do we need them?
Despite their menacing appearance, alligators play a crucial role in ecological systems. These reptiles help keep other animal populations in balance, including cleaning up nearby carrion. They are excellent at digging holes and their tails carve trails throughout marshes, creating habitat for fish and marine invertebrates. They also help control invasive species such as nutria and feral hogs.
Even though alligator sightings aren’t particularly common, it’s always smart to be cautious when in and around freshwater creeks, rivers, and other waterways. As one could guess, their powerful jaws and bite make them formidable when disturbed or threatened and they can run quickly over land to catch their next meal or defend their nesting site. Most alligators seen moving around are smaller gators that have been pushed out of their habitat by larger gators. Our most active months here in The Woodlands are April through July. Periods of extreme drought or heavy rains can result in an increase in movement.
To reduce dangerous encounters with alligators, follow these tips:
- If you see an alligator DO NOT approach it.
- If you hear an alligator hiss, it is a warning that you are too close.
- Never feed alligators – it is both dangerous and illegal.
- Don’t throw fish scraps in the water or leave them on shore.
- Closely supervise children when playing around water.
- Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or drink in or near water that may contain alligators.
- Keep pets on a leash and stay on approved pathways when traveling near waterways to minimize their risk.
- If you have a close encounter, back up slowly.
Alligator sightings can be reported to The Woodlands Township at 281-210-3800, online or use 311 app on your mobile device.
Contact Texas Parks & Wildlife Department at 281-931-6471. Game wardens can offer advice or a referral to approved companies that can remove a dangerous alligator if necessary.
It should be noted that under the Endangered Species Act, alligator populations have made a recovery, which lead to their de-listing from the endangered species list. Despite this, they remain protected and require a special permit to hunt, raise or possess. Consult the Texas Parks & Wildlife website for regulations concerning wildlife.
Interested in learning more about local wildlife? Check out these articles