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Prime Observation Locations
3. Distribution & Population
The alligator may be found throughout the
southeastern United States, from the Florida keys in
the southeast to the North Carolina/Virginia border to the northeast,
over to the southeastern 'corner' of Oklahoma, down to
reach of Texas. Its range consists of most of the area in between those points,
such as in Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and
Arkansas, a total area, from south to north, of tropical, sub-tropical and temperate zones.
In the map at left, the
alligator's natural range is represented in the
darkened area, with possible areas of exception explained in the
adapted from the original by the U.S. Geological Survey.)
number of alligators in the wild is practically impossible to know, so biologists estimate their numbers, which is a
tricky business. Scientists use surveys to factor
into their computations, such as nest counts or nighttime eye-shine
counts. Nighttime is when alligators are more active and mobile, mostly
in hunting, making them easier to find and account for.
In this photograph, Laura
Brandt of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service conducts an alligator count
from atop an airboat at the Loxahatchee Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Florida.
How many alligators are
there in a lake? In this photograph taken at Lake Hancock in
Polk County, Florida, there are at least eight
alligators seen at the surface. This lake is relatively large at
4,573 acres2/ 18.51 km2.
This author observed similar group concentrations for
nearly 500 ft/152m of lake perimeter, evidencing a large
population of gators here. Note their respect for "personal
'NATURAL' DISPERSAL. The alligator traverses its range in water, where it
feels most secure, but it will also travel on foot, whether in
search of a mate or more suitable habitat. Means of aquatic
conveyance include rivers, canals, streams, and natural and
man-made culverts (tunnels). The artifical culverts, in the form
of large buried pipes, allow alligators (and other willdlife) to
travel underneath roads; the culverts may serve to connect
various waterways over a large expanse. The alligator's use of
these watery pathways is the main reason the alligator is seldom
seen traveling on dry land.
This pair of metal culverts
provides easy cross-access underneath a road in central Florida.
Many forms of wildlife are able to safely pass underneath roads.
Alligators can move in long distances by taking advantage of
'UNNATURAL' DISPERSAL. Individual alligators are found in spots well
outside of the natural range, as regular media reports attest to. These
animals are released or have escaped from captivity
as "pets." In their natural range, alligators are able to adapt to the
cold and even to ice-capped water. But those former captives loose in
the harsher, northerly ranges will quickly perish when the seasons turn
cold, so colonizing is practically impossible. (Learn more about those imperiled reptiles,
In reported cases involving south Texas and
southeastern Oklahoma, captives were released and these groups have
thrived in their respective areas at the edges of the species' historic
Biologists have observed slight differences of hide between
alligators in the eastern and western ranges.
WHERE THEY DON'T BELONG
This map illustration
(published ca. 2009),
adapted from the one by the U.S. Geological Survey, shows points
scattered around the United States (colored in burgundy) where
alligators have been found outside their natural range, most or
all of which escaped or were released from captivity.
(Image Courtesy of U.S. Geological Survey)
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