The biggest reptile on the island

It’s been unseasonably cool in South Carolina… some mornings we’re shivering in our lightweight jackets. It’s also been a little cool for the local population of American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) that call Hilton Head home. As cold-blooded animals, their body temperature fluctuates with the outside temperature.  They’re slowly beginning to come out of hibernation to bask on the banks of waterways.

We were happy to enjoy several quite warm days when our youngest son visited us…. perfect weather, I thought, for encouraging alligators from hibernation. Driving around we saw only one huge one by a neighborhood pond. But then, while golfing, our son photographed a lot more just basking in the warm sun. They seem to prefer the quiet ponds and lakes and lagoons along fairways.

What surprised me was seeing his photos of alligators in people’s backyards. Residents and visitors alike are schooled in safety around these giants, but, safe or not, I’d definitely not grill outdoors if I spotted that guy below near my patio.

People are warned not to get closer than 60′ to these living relics. Although they don’t consider humans food, they are incredibly quick and unpredictable. There are strict rules against feeding them (big fines/jail time) or fishing with hot dogs, a fav food, and if one takes a fish you’ve hooked, don’t argue with the alligator. Cut your line. Our golfers were warned about retrieving a golf ball that lands too close to water. An alligator may see the golf ball as a delicious egg. They didn’t need to be told twice!

Alligators do see dogs as food. A little over a year ago an escaped 85-pound husky on the island was killed by an alligator when he stopped to have a drink from a pond. In spite of being protected by state and federal law, that alligator was deemed aggressive and had to be put down.

At the golf course pro shop, I found the perfect alligator for me… a safe one that was friendly and would never attack. I’d love to invite him to be a permanent fixture peeking out from beneath the rhododendrons in my garden at home!