Hoping to Spot an Alligator? Here Are the Southern States Where You're Likely to See One

The American alligator can live up to 50 years of age.

Jamie Bichelman - Author

May 13 2024, Published 1:00 p.m. ET

The top of an alligator is exposed above water with the reflection of autumnal leaves.
Source: iStock

As a kid growing up near gator country in Florida, alligator safety and conservation education was a prominent part of my childhood: how alligators tend to move and give chase, how climate change is forcing alligators to adapt to new environments, and so on.

If you live in the southern states of the U.S., you may be wondering how far north alligators are traveling. Is Virginia their cutoff? What about Arkansas? Still further north?

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Below, we'll explore the states where you're most likely to see an alligator, what climate change has done to upend their natural territories, and what else can be done to protect the beautiful reptile.

An alligator emerges from a swamp surrounded by leaves.
Source: iStock
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Are there alligators in Virginia?

According to a supplemental class resource from an adjunct instructor at George Mason University, the American Alligator is not native to Virginia. Alligators are mostly found in the coastal wetlands of SEC country in the U.S., according to the National Wildlife Federation, and the American Alligator is known to be found as far north as North Carolina and as far west as Texas.

Still, if you're planning to visit the DMV region or nearby West Virginia for some of the most scenic hiking trails in the U.S., you might wonder if you'll encounter an alligator. Indeed, per Virginia's 13News Now, an alligator was found relaxing by the pool of a Chesapeake home.

The alligator had escaped from a nearby animal education show and was safely returned without incident, an unfortunate example of the introduction of an alligator into a non-native location.

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Reports of alligators in Virginia, per Virginia Places, are sadly due to illegal or otherwise nefarious activities like running unaccredited zoos, keeping alligators as pets and releasing them into the Virginia wild when they grow too large, or other human activities that threaten the survival of wildlife animals.

The top of an alligator is visible above water with yellow, green, and blue colors reflected beside it.
Source: iStock
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Are there alligators in Arkansas?

Alligators require warm weather to thrive, and according to the Smithsonian's National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, alligators live in swamps, marshes, and lakes, although salt water is only habitable for short periods. Thus, according to the National Park Service, alligators find the waters in Arkansas quite hospitable.

As the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) explains, the American Alligator has been an Arkansas native for thousands of years. Throughout the decades since the 1960s, conservation efforts were made to increase dangerously low population numbers, though they are now hunted for sport throughout the state.

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Unfortunately, with the inviting climate and habitable bodies of water in Arkansas being so conducive to a flourishing alligator environment, human activity once more threatens to diminish thriving alligator population numbers right back to the threat of extinction if left unchecked.

According to Arkansas' KFSM-TV, the AGFC reported record-setting numbers in 2023, to the tune of more than 200 alligators hunted in the state, outpacing the 2020 record of 174.

With an ever-increasing number of hunting tags issued by local governments, combined with some humans' insatiable lust for trophy hunting, animals like the alligator — who have transcended their previous status as endangered species — still need support through public education and consistent conservation efforts.

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