Alligators in Tennessee

American Alligator, Photo Credit: Wikipedia

There have been several confirmed sightings of alligators in Southwest Tennessee in recent years. In March of 2024, an angler in East Tennessee reeled in an alligator at least 3 feet long from Norris Lake.   The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) responded, confirming it was an alligator and not a caiman.   This particular alligator was temporarily housed at Little Ponderosa Zoo until a permanent home was found.  Since 2018 confirmed sightings in Shelby, Fayette, and Hardin County have been recorded by the TWRA,  with a 7-foot alligator videotaped by TWRA Region 1 personnel in West Tennessee at the Wolf River WMA in Fayette County.   

People don’t typically think of Tennessee, especially West Tennessee, as the historical range for alligators, but it is.  What we’re seeing are alligators naturally expanding their range into Tennessee from the southern border states.  The TWRA has not stocked or released any alligators in Tennessee and we would like to remind everyone that possessing or releasing alligators in Tennessee is illegal and poses safety and ecological risks.  Alligators expanding into Tennessee is just another species that we must learn to coexist with.

Alligators are opportunistic feeders that prey on fish, turtles, snakes, frogs, and waterfowl. Occasionally they will feed on larger animals such as possums, raccoons, and deer.  Alligators can survive Tennessee winters by going into a hibernation-like dormancy called brumation, and what it does is it allows them to withstand periods of ice by sticking their snout out of the water before it freezes and it allows them to continue breathing while it is frozen.

Alligators are a testament to the biodiversity in Tennessee and are a protected species, and any attempt to capture or kill them is a violation of the law.   If you come across one while exploring the outdoors in West TN, don’t interact with, feed, or harass it, just view it from afar and leave it alone while enjoying Tennessee’s unique biodiversity.   Videos have circulated recently on the internet of people poking at and interacting with alligators in Tennessee, which falls under the State of Tennessee's definition of harassing wildlife and you could be cited for any incidents of interacting with them.