Are There Alligators in Tennessee?

The range of the American alligator covers portions of the southeast United States. This range traditionally covered the following states: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Texas.

But do alligators live in Tennessee (a nearby state that borders Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas)? Here, we will take an in-depth look at whether or not alligators can be found in “the Volunteer State.”  

Are there alligators in Tennessee?  Not long ago, a seven-foot-long alligator was found in the Wolf River in western Tennessee. And this was just the latest in a handful of confirmed alligator sightings in the state. So, yes, alligators can be found in Tennessee!  

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While alligators can be found in Tennessee, the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency (TWRA) believes that the amount of alligators living in this state is in the single digits. This is because the natural range of these large reptiles does not include Tennessee. So why are alligators starting to appear in Tennessee? 

Map of range of American alligator
USGS, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Alligators are naturally spreading their home ranges to include some more states, such as Tennessee. This is due, in part, to global warming. As parts of the country get warmer, alligators are able to survive there, where before, they were not able to thrive before.  

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Where in Tennessee have alligators been spotted? 

Alligators have made appearances in multiple spots in western Tennessee. For example, there have been some alligator spottings along the Wolf River, which goes through western cities such as Memphis, Collierville, Germantown, and Bartlett. 

Where in Tennessee have alligators been spotted?
Where in Tennessee have alligators been spotted?

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How do alligators survive the cold winters in Tennessee? 

The American alligator lives in slow-moving, freshwater rivers, as well as swamps, lakes, and marshes. In these environments, these animals rely on warm temperatures. Alligators are most active when the outdoor temperature is around 82 to 92 degrees.

Alligators thrive in the southern states because it gets so warm. But Tennessee has a more temperate than tropical climate, so how do the alligators that have reached Tennessee survive there during the colder months? 

Alligators can survive in Tennessee by going into a hibernation-like state called brumation. In most parts of the country, alligators will not be exposed to freezing temperatures, so when this happens alligators will lift their snout above the cold water so that they are still able to breathe. This is also sometimes called “icing” or “snorkeling.” 

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Are There Alligators in Tennessee?
Are There Alligators in Tennessee?

This brumation is unique because it is the complete opposite of what most crocodilians do when it gets cold. Most of the time, members of the crocodilian family (crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials) will get out of the water and try to bask in the sun when they get cold.

But the brumation is actually the best option for alligators who have moved up north because an alligator could completely freeze to death if they leave the water on a cold day.  

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Have alligators moved north to any other states? 

Tennessee is not the only state where alligators have been spotted in! Alligators have made appearances in states even more to the north than Tennessee- as far north as New York, Connecticut, Michigan, and Illinois! In all of these states, the alligators were on the smaller side (around three to five feet long) and the authorities were unsure how these animals made it so far up north.

In the case of a baby alligator found in a swimming pool in upstate New York during a heatwave, the local SPCA arranged for the gator to be transferred to a nature preserve in the south.  

Are There Alligators in Tennessee?
Are There Alligators in Tennessee?

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Are there any other animals that are native to other states that are expanding their range to Tennessee?  

Alligators are not the only animals that are expanding their range to the state of Tennessee. Cougars (which are native to the western parts of the United States, such as in the states Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming) are also naturally expanding their range to Tennessee.

They have been spotted in parts of central Tennessee multiple times over the past several years. Cougars used to be found in the state until the early 1900s when they became extinct in the state, but it now seems like they are making a comeback there.  

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