American Alligators

Alligator_Schell - CopyKiawah Island is home to a very healthy population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis). Alligators can be seen in almost all of the 150 brackish and freshwater ponds which are interspersed throughout the island.

Learn More About Alligator Tag Reporting

General Description

Alligators look like large lizards. They have five toes on the front feet and four on the back feet. The back feet are webbed to aid in swimming. Their hide is very rough and covered in heavy blackish-colored scales. Hatchlings are typically black on top with yellow blotches or stripes. Both males and females look identical.

Most of the alligators seen on Kiawah will be between 3-8 feet in length, though larger alligators up to 11 feet are present in some areas of the island. Alligators are cold-blooded which means that they cannot self-regulate their body temperature as humans do. For this reason, alligators are most active during the spring, summer, and fall. They will often be seen basking on pond edges in the sun in an attempt to warm their body temperature, especially during colder weather.

Reporting Aggressive Alligators

If you encounter an aggressive alligator on Kiawah, please report it to Town Hall by phone (843-768-9166) during normal business hours (8-5). At all other times, please call KICA Security (843-768-5566).

Alligator Surveys

Alligator spotlight surveys are conducted by Town biologists and KICA Lake Management staff each summer. Surveys are conducted for 2 nights along a predetermined route that includes most island ponds. The graph below shows the estimated density of alligators along the route each year.

Survey Results

The density estimate of alligators in the table below is derived from a formula using water temperature to standardize visibility rates.  The table shows the number of alligators per 100 acres of water.

Gator Pop 2022 - Copy

Life History

Despite their fearsome reputation, alligators are not always on the prowl for food. Since they are cold-blooded, they only require about one tenth the amount of food that a comparably-sized warm-blooded animal would. If prey is in short supply, one meal can last an adult almost a full year. Due to their slow digestion, alligators only need about one pound of food per week during their active seasons.

Alligators have a widely varied diet, influenced primarily by the size of the alligator. Small alligators will typically consume insects, frogs, snakes, small fish and turtles. As an alligator increases in size it will consume larger prey, such as raccoons, wading birds, small mammals, fish, deer, and even other alligators

With the arrival of spring, male (bull) alligators begin to bellow to attract females. Mating occurs in April – May and the female will lay 30 to 50 oblong, white eggs in a mound of mud, stem, stalks, and fronds. Nests resemble a big compost pile and are typically found along secluded pond banks. The eggs are kept warm and secure in the center of the nest. The female will stay close to the nest at all times, guarding the nest against predators.

Female alligators may attack any animal, including a human, that approaches her nest or hatchlings. Generally, their attacks are bluffs intended to scare intruders away, but true attacks can occur.

Eggs typically hatch in August or September and the baby alligators are often taken to the water, one by one, by the female. They immediately begin feeding, mainly on insects, small fish, and frogs. Hatchlings will grow approximately 6-8 inches per year on Kiawah. It takes female alligators 10 to 12 years to reach sexual maturity in South Carolina. At that time, they are usually about seven feet in length. Female alligators rarely reach 9 feet in length and almost all alligators greater than 9 feet are males.

Alligators are incredibly adaptable animals and have existed for millions of years. The only real threat to the alligator is man. Remember, it is against the law to feed or otherwise harass alligators. This includes activities, such as throwing sticks or rocks. When people feed alligators, they will begin to associate people with food, creating a very dangerous situation. These animals often have to be destroyed. Town biologists typically remove 2-6 nuisance alligators per year under the state’s Nuisance Alligator Program.

Alligator Safety

  • Stay at least 60 feet (4 car lengths) away from alligators.
  • Do not feed alligators.
  • Do not fish or crab near alligators.
  • Do not throw used bait or fish parts into water after fishing or crabbing.
  • Do not throw objects at alligators or harass them in any way.
  • Keep children and pets away from the edges of lakes and ponds.
  • Keep out of secluded pond areas where alligators may nest. Females are very protective of their nest and young.