A Real Florida Gator
This alligator watches a
passing boat from the bank of
Florida's Wakulla River.
Alligator Sunning by a River
Alligators are often seen
warming in the sun along the
banks of Southern rivers,
lakes and streams.
Alligators - Remarkable Reptiles of the American South
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Alligators & the Deep South
An Alligator Smile?
Early explorers sometimes confused the massive
Southern reptiles for crocodiles.
Amazing Residents of the South
The marvel of early explorers of the South,
alligators were stunning sights to the first
Spanish, French and English adventurers
who ventured up wild Southern rivers.

Just a few decades ago, however, the
amazing reptiles were on the verge of total
extinction. Aggressive conservation efforts,
however, have brought them back and they
can now be found from North Carolina south
to Florida and west to Texas.

While the largest recorded alligator in
modern times was a Louisiana alligator that
measured in at 19 feet, 2 inches, there are
strong indications that this specimen may
have been a mere baby to some of the gators
seen by early explorers.

The French artist Jacques LeMoyne, for
example, drew images of Native Americans
in Florida battling and killing
huge alligators.
The reptiles shown by the artist easily
measure more than 20 feet in length.

Nor was LeMoyne alone. The naturalist
William Bartram wrote the following in 1791:

I have seen them twenty feet in length, and
some are supposed to be twenty-two or
twenty-three feet. Their body is as large as a

The memory of such massive beasts is
preserved today in the legend to
Tom, the mysterious alligator-monster of
Northwest Florida and Southeast Alabama.

Most alligators today are quite a bit smaller,
but nevertheless are impressive sights in
their natural habitat.

As you might expect, alligators have only one
natural enemy - humans. From the earliest
days of the settlement of the South, human
beings alternately marveled at and killed
There were multiple reasons for this. The
meat of the alligator tail is quite a delicacy
and in hard times was often the only meat
available. Today It is commonly deep fried
and can be purchased in restaurants across
the South.

In turn, alligators developed an appetite for
farm animals, making them natural enemies
of early settlers. They regularly dined on
mules, hogs, cows and chickens, a fact that
prompted an ongoing war between settlers
and alligators.

Despite this mortal conflict, it was actually
pesticide that most experts attribute with
nearly wiping out alligators. They have
rebounded well, however, and now can be
seen throughout the region.
Juvenile Alligator
Although this small alligator
measures less than 3 feet
long, they once grew to
lengths of more than 20 feet.
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Copyright 2011 by Dale Cox
All rights reserved.

Last Update: July 30, 2012
ExploreSouthernHistory.com - Alligators & the Deep South