Alligators on Hilton Head Island

The largest freshwater reptile on Hilton Head Island is the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis).

Alligators are considered "keystone species," a species that helps fashion its environment and influence the types of species that live there. This is especially true on barrier islands like Hilton Head Island, where alligators perform necessary services.

  • Alligators create trails, holes, and nests that provide habitat for birds, reptiles, and other species. During dry periods, alligator holes are often the only water source for wildlife in an area.
  • Breeding birds will choose to nest over areas where alligators live. The alligators keep other predators away from the nests and feed on the chicks that fall out the nests.
Alligator in water

About Alligators

  • Alligators are cold-blooded reptiles and are generally black in color with creamy white underbellies.
    • They have rows of rough scales (scutes) along their backs and large broad snouts. Juvenile alligators have several yellow and white bands along their bodies.
    • They range in size from 9 inches to 13 feet long.
  • Primarily freshwater animals, the coastal marshlands provide quality habitat for alligators.
    • They can be found in any freshwater habitat, including lakes, rivers, ponds, swampy areas, and brackish and saltwater areas.
  • Alligator basking on waters edge
  • Typically, alligators attack from the water. If you see an alligator lying on the bank, it is most likely basking (warming their bodies in the sun).
  • During the spring/summer, juveniles (less than 6 feet) move around frequently for food and to avoid larger males.
  • Alligators are opportunistic feeders and can't necessarily distinguish their normal prey from a house pet or a splashing person from a fish.
  • Alligators are most active from dusk to dawn and feed on fish, turtles, wading birds, snakes, frogs, small mammals, and sometimes smaller alligators.

It is illegal and dangerous to feed or harass alligators.

How to be Safe Around Alligators

Alligator partially submerged in water
  • Keep your distance from alligators.
  • Be mindful of children and keep pets on a leash when in or around bodies of water.
  • Feeding alligators is illegal. Alligators overcome their natural shyness and become accustomed or attracted to humans when fed.
  • Don't feed other wildlife or throw fish scraps and trash in bodies of water alligators may live in. Although you are not intentionally feeding alligators, the end result can be the same.
  • Never disturb nests or small alligators.

Nuisance Alligators

The presence of alligators alone does not qualify it to be a nuisance, even if it is located in an unexpected place. If left alone, most alligators will move on.

Alligatorsat waters edge

A nuisance alligator is one that has lost its fear of humans (as a result of feeding), may cause harm to people or property, and/or is trapped in a place it's not supposed to be.

SCDNR does not allow relocation of alligators.

  • Alligators have a strong homing instinct, making relocation ineffective.
  • Also, if it is a nuisance in one location, it will be in another.

Nuisance alligators will be euthanized.

To Report a Nuisance Alligator

  • If you live within an HOA or Property Management Group, report any nuisance alligators to them first.
  • If you do not live in an HOA, report any nuisance alligators to your regional nuisance alligator coordinator at 803-625-3569.
Alligators basking next to water and golf course fairway

Representatives of a Property Management group should contact your regional nuisance alligator coordinator at 803-625-3569 to learn what resources are available for managing alligators on your property.


SC Department of Natural Resources

Alligator Frequently Asked Questions

Alligator-Related Emergency

  • SC Department of Natural Resources
  • 1-800-922-5431

Regional Coordinator

  • SC Department of Natural Resources
    Lower Coastal Region
  • 803-625-3569