An alligator suns himself at Merchants Millpond State Park in Gatesville, N.C. -- SUBMITTED

Archived Story

Riverkeeper Report: Are alligators coming to Virginia?

Published 6:32am Saturday, October 1, 2011

Are alligators coming to Virginia? That’s the question I started asking after the Wednesday story in The Tidewater News about the illegal possession of alligators and why it is illegal in Virginia to own them.

It was only a couple of years ago that a friend of mine visited Merchants Millpond in North Carolina and took pictures of several large gators lounging around. The significance of that is the fact that this state park is less than 30 miles from the Blackwater and Nottoway rivers.

So I was wondering if gators could or would migrate to our fair rivers.

According to Jay Greenwood, park superintendent at Merchants Millpond, there are five gators living there.

“We have not seen any proof of them reproducing yet, but they may soon,” Greenwood said. “To reach reproductive age, they are usually about 8 feet long, so most of the ones seen in this area are just shy of that. In cooler climates they are unable to reproduce as quickly because they don’t grow as fast as they do in the far South.”

All the waterways in northeast North Carolina are connected to the Alligator National Wildlife Refuge, which has always had a good population. Like most wildlife, young typically move to create their new range for plentiful food supplies.

So they will move up and down waterways in search of new home ranges.

Research now shows alligators can survive our winters. They can actually freeze in the ice as long as they can get air, and most of their body is below the freeze line.

So to this Riverkeeper that sounds like the possibility of us one day seeing a gator in Virginia waters is not unthinkable. Personally I would not like alligators in the Blackwater or Nottoway.

However, Greenwood went on to tell me that in North Carolina, “it is our belief that this is a positive issue. If we manage it properly and educate the public, we will be better off.  They are a large predator that helps us control species that are not native or invasive, such as nutria and resident Canada geese. We don’t know for sure to what extent they would have gone north in our history.  They may have been up to the Chesapeake before their extirpation in most of its range.”

“These animals have really helped our water quality in controlling the resident geese as well as reducing the nutria populations. They have also become a big tourist attraction; we have a lot of visitors that travel here to see them. We provide signage and a lot of education to protect the visitors as well as the alligators.”

Hey, I’m all for a reduction in the Canada goose population and maybe that would take care of the “cows in the river” issue, but I see a huge reduction in boating, water skiing and swimming activities in the Blackwater and Nottoway if gators are basking along our shorelines.

I asked John Kleopfer, a wildlife biologist and herpetologist for the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, what he thought about the prospect of Virginia gators and he stated, “Fortunately, I don’t believe there is any direct connectivity between Merchants Mill Pond and Virginia. The Albemarle Sound waterway up the Pasquotank River is a more viable route for natural range expansion.”

So there you have it. Are alligators coming here? I reckon they will eventually if climate change continues heating things up.

I guess the right answer is they will if they want to and neither Moonpie nor I will be able to stop that on either of the two rivers we call the Blackwater and Nottoway.

  • River Mud

    If Scott Kloepfer would pull up his handy dandy raster viewer he’d see that in fact, Merchant Mill Pond drains into a tributary swamp of the Chowan River, which quite obviously has significant headwaters within Virginia.

    The prevailing theory is that late winter/spring low temperatures drive the reproductive success of gators at the northern end of their range. That average low temperature differs less than one degree farenheit between Suffolk, VA and the northern extent of successfully breeding alligators.

    DGIF may want to consider this migration as a reality.

    Suggest Removal

  • FromHere

    Sounds like a plan, RWH.

    Suggest Removal

  • http://www.blackwaternottoway.com Jeff Turner

    Roy, I wondered the same thing. I asked a CPO with VDGIF and was told they would not be considered a non-native invasive species if they migrated here on their own and that they would have to be managed. That most likely means they would be protected until if or at some time the population became so great they would allow hunting to keep numbers in check. Still, I doubt I will live long enough to see that happen.

    Suggest Removal

  • Carolyn

    Mr. Greenwood seems to know his science. There have been alligators reported in the Pasquotank River. Just this past summer one was cited about one mile from me as the river flows.

    I don’t want them and don’t blame the Riverkeeper for not wanting them in his rivers. As a child I spent endless hours in the Pasquotank up to a couple hundred feet offshore (it is very shallow). I worried about stepping on a crab from time to time or the dreaded sighting of a snake but seeing an alligator never crossed my mind back then. If they were around I am glad I didn’t know about them. It would have been a whole different childhood for me.

    Suggest Removal

  • RWH

    If I ever see an alligator in the Nottoway, Blackwater, or Chowan I will kill it and no one will know it was me. End of story!

    Suggest Removal

  • RoyDeSoto

    I poked around some and found a comment that they are protected Federally as endangered, but no cite to law was included. Probably true though. Still is a gator is coming toward me, ‘self defense’ is the operative standard. On the other hand, those guys on “Swamp People” kill them with a .22 to the head so as long as your aim is true, they shouldn’t put up much of a fight, and must not be universally protected. Since they are a non-native VA species, would the government support an eradication program?

    Suggest Removal

  • http://www.blackwaternottoway.com Jeff Turner

    I’m not sure about laws on the book, but VDGIF told me if gators did move into Va. they would be a protected species. I said the same thing about the web-site and when asked I was told “If you open our park brochure on our website, its a pdf. It has many more specifics such as info on the alligators.” But I have not looked.

    Suggest Removal

  • FromHere

    Jeff, that picture looks exactly like parts of the Nottoway up near Courtland – minus the gator!

    Suggest Removal

  • hawkgirl

    I do believe last summer someone spotted a gator in Virginia. Maybe look back and research the TN to see if they cared the article, or maybe the Va Pilot. I expect at some point they will reproduce and could potential move anywhere further inland, Va or NC. Hopefully people will respect them and keep their distance! :-)

    Suggest Removal

  • dkh

    http://www.ncparks.gov/Visit/parks/memi/main.php

    I find it interesting they don’t “advertise” they have gators on the website.

    Suggest Removal

  • RoyDeSoto

    Does VA have any laws on shooting gators?

    Suggest Removal

Editor's Picks