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Alligators: What Arkansans Need to Know

They are sometimes attracted to fishermen’s surface action lures, mistaking them as potential food.
LITTLE ROCK, AR (News Release) - The American Alligator has been a resident of Arkansas for thousands of years, inhabiting swamps, sloughs, bayous, river backwaters, and oxbow lakes throughout the Coastal Plain and Mississippi Delta. With the arrival of European settlers the land was cleared and drained and the alligator was hunted without restriction.

By the early 1960’s the loss of habitat and unregulated hunting had reduced the alligator population to the point where it was endangered throughout its range in the southeastern United States. State and federal protection of the animal for over 20 years and restocking efforts have allowed alligator populations to recover.

As a part of this recovery, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission restocked 2,800 Louisiana alligators, between 1972 and 1984, throughout the alligator’s presumed historic range in Arkansas. The alligator is still protected by state and federal laws, and it is illegal to feed, possess, harass, or kill an alligator. Arkansans need to know and understand that alligators are a part of our state’s natural heritage and they should be respected and enjoyed as much as any other fish and wildlife resource.

Some facts about alligators:
  • Alligators are members of the Class Crocodylia and are not “true” reptiles. They are more closely related to birds and dinosaurs, than to snakes or lizards!
  • Crocodilians have existed for about 200 million years!
  • Alligators are a “kind” of Crocodilian, in the Family Alligatoridae, and are not “true” crocodiles. Alligators and their South American cousins, the Caimans, have broad, rounded snouts and live in freshwater habitats. True Crocodiles have narrower, pointed snouts and live in both fresh and salt-water habitats.
  • The average adult alligator ranges from 6-12 feet in length. Males grow bigger than females, with females rarely growing over 9 feet in length.
  • Alligators are sexually mature when they reach 6 feet in length.
  • Male alligators “bellow” in the spring to attract female alligators.
  • Breeding takes place in May and June and eggs laid in late June or early July.
  • Females scrape and push decaying vegetation into a “nest mound”, as much as 2-3 feet high and 6-7 feet long. The heat generated from the decomposing plant material aids in the incubation of the eggs. The female lays from 30-50 eggs in the nest mound and the eggs hatch in approximately 65 days. The female stays near the nest during this time to guard it from predators like raccoons and skunks.
  • When it is time for hatching the female opens the nest when she hears the “yelping” of the young, and will gently carry the young to water in her mouth.
  • Young alligators are black in color and are boldly marked with yellow crossbars. This helps camouflage them from potential predators. The young will stay close together in dense aquatic vegetation for the first year and the female remains close by to protect them from predators.
  • Alligators survive cold winter temperatures by remaining submerged in deep water and coming up to breath only once every hour or so, or by retreating into dens dug in the banks of rivers or levees.
  • Alligators are naturally shy of humans and if not accustomed to human presence will retreat from their approach. However, alligators that have been fed will learn to approach humans looking for a handout, and this creates a serious problem for unsuspecting humans and/or their pets.
  • Alligators are sometimes attracted to fishermen’s surface action lures, mistaking them as potential food.
  • Alligators will not attempt to feed during the cool fall and winter months, so water fowl hunting dogs are safe.
People and alligators can safely exist together if people would follow some simple guidelines and use common sense.

DO’S and DON’TS in Alligator Country:
  • Don’t feed or attempt to feed an alligator!
  • Do tell others that it is illegal to feed an alligator and they are creating problems for other unsuspecting persons if they do.
  • Don’t throw fish scraps in the water or leave them on or near boat ramps, this is just the same as intentional feeding.
  • Do keep your distance to observe alligators.
  • Don’t swim or wade in areas where they are.
  • Don’t allow children or pets to go in or near water in known alligator habitat.

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