American alligator
Alligator mississippiensis
ITIS Species Code:   551771         NatureServ Element Code:   ARABA01010
NatureServe Global Rank: 
NatureServe State (NC) Rank: 
Federal Status: 
NC State Status: 
Land Unit

US Fish & Wildlife Service
US Forest Service
US National Park Service
US Department of Defense
NC State Parks
NC University System
NC Wildlife Res. Com.
NC Forest Service
NC Div. of Coastal Mgmt.
Local Governments
Non-Governmental Org.
Other Public Lands
Private Lands

GAP Status 1-2
All Protected Lands




% of Dist. on
Prot. Lands

26.8 %
7.9 %
34.0 %
4.1 %
4.5 %
1.3 %
11.6 %
1.1 %
3.0 %
4.3 %
4.3 %
0.9 %
0.1 %

46.6 %
% of Dist. on
All Lands

2.4 %
0.7 %
3.1 %
0.4 %
0.4 %
0.1 %
1.1 %
0.1 %
0.3 %
< 0.1 %
0.4 %
< 0.1 %
91.0 %

4.2 %
Large streams, canals, ponds, lakes, swamp forests, fresh and brackish water marshes and tidal estuarine creeks are habitats for the alligator (Palmer and Braswell 1995). Although it is primarily a freshwater species, the alligator is occasionally encountered in estuarine or saltwater habitats (Bartlett and Bartlett 1999). Largest populations are located where human activity is restricted or controlled.

Alligators construct tunnel-like dens in the banks of water bodies with entrances often below the water surface. Multiple den sites are used by a single alligator, and these dens account for the tenacity of individuals to remain in one home range for much of their life (Palmer and Braswell 1995). They often spend much foraging time (particularly younger alligators) in canals and other places where aquatic herbaceous vegetation is profuse. Large adults may also forage in densely vegetated marshes or in and around larger pools in extensive swamp forests. Both large marsh areas and extensive swamp forests may be critical to the stability of populations (Palmer and Braswell 1995).


Fresh and brackish marshes, ponds, lakes, rivers, swamps, bayous, large spring runs. Basks on land next to water. Digs dens in river or lake margins or in marshes; spends cold winter and drought periods in den. Depends on access to air holes to survive in ice-covered ponds (Brandt and Mazotti 1990).

Copulation occurs in shallow water. Lays eggs in large mounded nest made of leaves, mud, rotting vegetation, rocks, or other debris. Nests are built in marshes or at lake or river margins. In north-central Florida, nested in close proximity to permanent water, used a wide variety of available plant materials and soil in constructing nest (Goodwin and Marion 1978). Turtles (e.g., PSEUDEMYS NELSONI) often lay eggs in alligator nests.


Coastal rivers, lakes, marshes, swamp forests, and estuarine creeks. Also cypress ponds in flatwoods and sandhills in southeast part of state. Coastal impoundments for nesting.

Occupied Landcover Map Units:
Code NameDescription NC Natural Heritage Program Equivalent
378 Ocean Beaches Open beach sand. Upper Beach
3 Tidal Marsh Fresh and brackish tidal marshes, including cord grass, wild rice, sawgrass and needlerush alliances. Brackish Marsh, Interdune pond, Maritime wet grassland
124 Maritime Scrubs and Tidal Shrublands Coastal shrubs including wax-myrtle, swamp rose, alder, yaupon, and greenbriar. Maritime Shrubs, Salt Shrub
375 Hypersaline coastal salt flats Tidal flats within salt marshes, including saltmeadow cordgrass or sea-purslane dominated alliances. Salt Marsh
372 Interdune Herbaceous Wetlands Dune swales with permanently flooded to intermittently exposed hydrology. Species composition depends on salinity and can include cut grass, spike-rush, mosquito fern, and hornwort. Interdune Pond, Maritime Wet Grasslands
371 Maritime Grasslands Dune grass community consisting of sea oats and beach grasses. Dune grass, Maritime dry grassland
75 Tidal Swamp Forest Swamp tupelo dominated forest with or without black tupelo and/or cypress trees. Restricted to the tidal zones in the coastal plain. May have inclusions of coastal red cedar woodlands. Tidal cypress - gum swamp
121 Maritime Pinelands Loblolly forests and woodlands of the outer coastal plain. Estuarine Fringe Loblolly Pine Forest
17 Maritime Forests and Hammocks Maritime forests and woodlands dominated by live or sand laurel oak. Estuarine Fringe forests dominated by loblolly pine. Coastal Fringe Evergreen Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest, Maritime Deciduous Forest
126 Interdune Wooded Depression Swamp Includes swamps dominated by sweetbay and swampbay or dogwood dominated forests. Maritime Shrub Swamp, Maritime Swamp Forest
380 Coastal Plain Fresh Water Emergent Emergent vegetation in fresh water seepage bogs, ponds and riverbeds of the coastal plain. Includes alliances dominated by sedges, eelgrass, as well as cane found in unforested cane-brakes. Small Depression Pond, Sandhill Seep, Floodplain Pool, Unforested Floodplain Canebrake, Riverscour Prairies, Vernal Pools
173 Coastal Plain Riverbank Shrubs Shrub dominated riverbanks, commonly dominated by willows and/or alders. Sand and Mud Bar
50 Coastal Plain Mixed Bottomland Forests Includes forests dominated by a variety of hardwood species, including sweetgum, cottonwood, red maple. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwood (in part), Coastal Plain Levee Forest
49 Coastal Plain Oak Bottomland Forest Bottomland forests dominated by deciduous oak alliances. Oaks represented can include swamp chestnut, cherrybark, willow, and/or overcup oak. Inclusions of loblolly pine temporarily flooded forests occur in patches. Hydrology is temporarily to seasonally flooded. Coastal Plain Bottomland Hardwoods (in part) blackwater subtype, brownwater subtype
158 Coastal Plain Nonriverine Wet Flat Forests Loblolly pine - Atlantic white-cedar - red maple - swamp tupelo saturated forests as well as forests dominated by loblolly, sweetgum, and red maple in non-riverine flats. Non-riverine Wet Hardwood Forest
41 Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest Dense stands of Atlantic white cedar with saturated hydrology. Can include swamp tupelo, red maple, and pond pines with a moderate shrub and herb layer. Peatland Atlantic White-Cedar Forest
15 Seepage and Streamhead Swamps Includes extensive peat flats in the coastal plain, dominated by swamp tupelo, maples, and Atlantic white cedar alliances. In the sandhills includes streamhead pond pine and bay forests alliances. Saturated hydrology. Bay Forest, Small Depression Pocosin, Streamhead Atlantic White Cedar Forest, Streamhead Pocosins
30 Cypress-Gum Floodplain Forests Swamps dominated by black or swamp tupelo with or without Taxodium. Seasonally to semi-permanently flooded hydrology. Cypress-Gum Swamps
78 Pond-Cypress - Gum Swamps, Savannas and Lakeshores Cypress dominated swamps and lakeshores. Can include bays dominated by pond cypress or shorelines of coastal plain lakes with a narrow band of cypress. Non-riverine Swamp Forest, Natural Lakeshores (in part)
385 Oak Bottomland Forest and Swamp Forest The swamp chestnut oak, cherrybark oak, shumard oak and sweetgum alliance is one representative. Other alliances are dominated by water, willow, and overcup oaks. Swamp forests can be dominated by sweetgum, red maple, and black gum being dominant. Loblolly can occur in combination with sweetgum and red maple, or with tulip poplar. Includes saturated and semi- to permanently flooded forests in the mountains. Piedmont/Mountain Bottomland Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Swamp Forest
63 Coastal Plain Mesic Hardwood Forests Beech dominated forests with white oak and northern red oak as possible co-dominants. Dry-mesic to mesic forests on slopes and small stream bottoms in the coastal plain. Mesic Mixed Hardwood Forest, Basic Mesic Forests
138 Coastal Plain Dry to Dry-Mesic Oak Forests Oak dominated forests of the coastal plain. Includes white oak forests with water oak or northern red oak and hickories as co-dominants. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
87 Pocosin Woodlands and Shrublands Includes pond pine woodland, low pocosin and high pocosin shrub dominated areas. Canebrakes and bay forests may be present. Pond Pine Woodlands, Peatland Canebrake, Small Depression Pocosin
67 Wet Longleaf or Slash Pine Savanna Wet flatwoods and pine savannas, typically dominated by longleaf pines, but slash or pond pines may be the dominant pines. Wet Pine Flatwoods
97 Mesic Longleaf Pine Longleaf pine woodlands without a major scrub oak component. Slash or loblolly pines may be present as well. Mesic Pine Flatwoods
42 Xeric Longleaf Pine Sandhills including a range of longleaf pine density from predominantly wiregrass, scrub oak dominated to true longleaf pine woodland. This does not include mesic or saturated flatwood types. Xeric Sandhill Scrub, Pine/Scrub Oak Sandhill, Coastal Fringe Sandhill
46 Xeric Oak - Pine Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with white or northern red oaks co-dominating. Pine Oak Heath
232 Xeric Pine-Hardwood Woodlands and Forests Mixed forest dominated by yellow pines with drier oaks including southern red, post, and chestnut oaks. Dry Oak Hickory Forest
238 Piedmont/Mountain Submerged Aquatic Vegetation Seasonally to permanently flooded areas with aquatic vegetation. Waterlily, pondweed, hydrilla smartweed are a few of the species that can occur. Piedmont/Mountain Semipermanent Impoundment (in part)
239 Piedmont/Mountain Emergent Vegetation Emergent vegetation of all wetland hydrologies. Sites would commonly support species such as tussock sedge, rushs, and cattail alliances. Rocky Bar and Shore (in part)
267 Riverbank Shrublands Riverside shrubs with temporarily flooded hydrologies. Found in the both the Mountains and Piedmont. Containing dominants such as smooth alder and a Carolina or black willows. Sand and Mud Bar
269 Floodplain Wet Shrublands Saturated shrublands of the Piedmont, includes buttonbush, swamp-loosestrife, decodon and alders. Piedmont/mountain Semipermanent Impoundment
230 Piedmont Mesic Forest American Beech - Red Oak - White Oak Forests. Mesic Mixed Hardwood
384 Piedmont/Mountain Mixed Bottomland Hardwood Forests Includes temporarily to seasonally forests dominated by hardwood species. Hardwoods include sweetgum, red maple, sycamore which co-occur in a mosaic of bottomland and levee positions. Includes alluvial hardwood forests in the mountains. Hemlock and white pine may occur as inclusions, but are generally mapped separately. Piedmont/Mountain Alluvial Forest, Piedmont/Mountain Levee Forest
383 Piedmont Mixed Successional Forest Generally loblolly mixed with successional hardwoods. Sweetgum, tulip poplar and red maple are common co-dominants in these successional forests. No equivalent
228 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Oak and Hardwood Forests Primarily oak dominated forests, white oak is often dominant, with co-dominants including . Also represented by sweetgum and tulip poplar dominated forests. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Basic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
222 Piedmont Dry-Mesic Pine Forests Loblolly dominated forests resulting from succession following clearing. This type occurs on all moisture regimes following disturbance with the exception of the extremely xeric sites. No equivalent
382 Dry Mesic Oak Pine Forests Mixed forests of the coastal plain and piedmont. Includes loblolly pine with white, southern red and/or post oak and loblolly with water oak. On basic sites of the piedmont, eastern red cedar may co-occur with post, black, and blackjack oaks. Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Xeric Hard Pan Forest, Chestnut Oak Forest, Dry Mesic Oak Hickory Forest, Dry Oak Hickory Forest
220 Piedmont Xeric Pine Forests Dry to xeric pine forests dominated by Virginia pine, shortleaf pine or Eastern Red Cedar. Pine Oak Heath
226 Piedmont Xeric Woodlands Generally post and blackjack oak dominated woodlands. White ash and pignut hickory can be found in combination with Eastern red cedar on glades. Xeric Hardpan Forest
20 Coniferous Regeneration Regenerating pine stands. Predominantly loblolly pine, but slash and longleaf stands occur as well. No equivalent
21 Coniferous Cultivated Plantation (natural / planted) Managed pine plantations, densely planted. Most planted stands are loblolly, but slash and longleaf occur as well. No equivalent
51 Deciduous Cultivated Plantation Planted deciduous trees. Includes sweetgum and sycamore plantations. No equivalent
36 Successional Deciduous Forests Regenerating deciduous trees with a shrub stature. Commonly dominated by sweetgum, tulip poplars and maples. No equivalent
180 Agricultural Crop Fields Farm fields used for row crops. No equivalent
205 Agricultural Pasture/Hay and Natural Herbaceous Farm fields used for pasture grass or hay production, as well as old fields dominated by native and exotic grasses. No equivalent
213 Barren; quarries, strip mines, and gravel pits Quarries, strip mines, or gravel pits. No equivalent
214 Barren; bare rock and sand Areas of bare rock, sand or clay. No equivalent
60 Sand Exposed sand, predominantly in the sandhills region where disturbance or the extreme site conditions prevent natural regeneration. No equivalent
202 Residential Urban Includes vegetation interspersed in residential areas. Includes lawns, mixed species woodlots, and horticultural shrubs. Vegetation accounts for between 20 - 70% of the cover. No equivalent
8 Open water Open water without aquatic vegetation. No equivalent
View Entire Landcover Legend
Additional Spatial Constraints:
Exclude all area outside of known range.
Exclude all land greater than 50 meters from an open water feature.
Exclude all water greater than 200 meters from land.
Exclude salt water habitats.
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U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. 1980. Selected vertebrate endangered species of the seacoast of the United States--theAmerican alligator. FWS/OBS-80/01.39.

Mazzotti, F. J., and L. A. Brandt. 1988. A method of live-trapping wary crocodiles. Herpetol. Rev. 19:40-41.

Rootes, W. L., and R. H. Chabreck. 1993. Reproductive status and movement of adult female alligators. J. Herpetology 27:121-126.

Thorbjarnarson, J. B. 1996. Reproductive characteristics of the order Crocodylia. Herpetologica 52:8-24.

Conover, M. R., and T. J. Dubow. 1997. Alligator attacks on humans in the United States. Herpetological Review 28:120-124.

Conant, R. and J. T. Collins. 1991. A field guide to reptiles and amphibians:eastern and central North America. Third edition. Houghton Mifflin Co., Boston, Massachusetts. 450 pp.

Glasgow, V. L. 1991. A social history of the American alligator:the earth trembles with his thunder. St. Martin's Press, New York. x + 260 pp.

Palmer, W. M., and A. L. Braswell. 1995. Reptiles of North Carolina. North Carolina State Museum of Natural Sciences, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Brisbin, I. L., Jr., and M. A. McDonald. 1989. Genetic patterns and the conservation of crocodilians:a review of strategies and options. Pages 156-168 in Crocodiles:Proc. 8th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group, IUCN.

Woodward, A. R., M. L. Jennings, and H. F. Percival. 1989. Egg collecting and hatch rates of American alligator eggs in Florida. Wildl. Soc. Bull. 17:124-130.

Brandt, L. A., and F. J. Mazzotti. 1990. The behavior of juvenile ALLIGATOR MISSISSIPPIENSIS and CAIMAN CROCODILUS exposed to low temperature. Copeia 1990:867-871.

Kushlan, J. A., and T. Jacobsen. 1990. Environmental variability and the reproductive success of Everglades alligators. J. Herpetology 24:176-184.

Mount, R. H. 1975. The Reptiles and Amphibians of Alabama. Auburn University Agricultural Experiment Station, Auburn, Alabama. vii + 347 pp.

Behler, J. L., and F. W. King. 1979. The Audubon Society field guide to North American reptiles and amphibians. Alfred A. Knopf, New York. 719 pp.

International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. 1982. Crocodiles. Proceedings of the 5th working meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group of the Species Survival Commission. Gainesville, Florida, 12-16 August 1980.

O'Brien, T. G., and P. D. Doerr. 1986. Night count surveys for alligators in coastal counties of North Carolina. J. Herpetology 20:444-448.

Ashton, R. E., Jr., and P. S. Ashton. 1985. Handbook of reptiles and amphibians of Florida. Part two. Lizards, turtles & crocodilians. Windward Pub., Inc., Miami. 191 pp.

Luxmoore, R. A., et al., compilers. 1985. A directory of crocodilian farming operations. Jointly published by IUCN and CITES, Univ. Press, Cambridge, England. 204 pp.

Brisbin, I. L., Jr., et al. 1986. A bibliography of the American alligator (ALLIGATOR MISSISSIPPIENSIS). i-111 + 1-xii + 1-116.

Webb, G. J. W., et al., eds. 1987. Wildlife management:crocodiles and alligators. Surrey Beatty & Sons Pty Limited, New South Wales, Australia. 552 pp.

Brandt, L. A. 1991. Long-term changes in a population of ALLIGATOR MISSISSIPPIENSIS in South Carolina. J. Herpetology 25:419-424.

Densmore, L. D., III, and P. S. White. 1991. The systematics and evolution of the Crocodilia as suggested by restriction endonuclease analysis of mitochondrial and nuclear ribosomal DNA. Copeia 1991:602-615.

King, F. W., and R. L. Burke, editors. 1989. Crocodilian, tuatara, and turtle species of the world:a taxonomic and geographic reference. Association of Systematics Collections, Washington, D.C. 216 pp.

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 4 June 1987. Reclassification of the American alligator to threatened due to similarity of appearance throughout the remainder of its range. Federal Register 52:21059-21064.

Joanen, T., and L. McNease. 1970. A telemetric study of nesting female alligators on Rockefeller Refuge, Louisiana. Proceedings 24th Annual Conference Southeast. Assoc. Game and Fish Comm.:175-193.

Hunt, R. H., and J. J. Ogden. 1991. Selected aspects of the nesting ecology of American alligators in the Okefenokee Swamp. J. Herpetology 25:448-453.

Joanen, T., and L. McNease. 1972. A telemetric study of adult male alligators on Rockefeller Refuge, Louisiana. Proc. 26th Ann. Conf. Southeast. Assoc. Game & Fish Comm.:252-275.

Taylor, D., N. Kinler, and G. Linscombe. 1991. Female alligator reproduction and associated population estimates. J. Wildlife Management 55:682-688.

10 March 2005
This data was compiled and/or developed by the North Carolina GAP Analysis Project.

For more information please contact them at:
NC-GAP Analysis Project
Dept. of Zoology, NCSU
Campus Box 7617
Raleigh, NC 27695-7617
(919) 513-2853