Louisianians Know About Alligators
Having been born and raised in Southern Louisiana, I’ve always had an awareness of our alligators. Thanks to History Channel’s hit TV series, Swamp People (with the Landry’s, Gator Queen Liz, the Edwards, the Molineres, Tommy, Joe and Bruce...) and our very own Swamp Man (Shelby Stanga of Axmen) more people than ever have come to know much about the alligators in the swamps and the wetlands of Louisiana. They may grow potatoes on Idaho farms but here in Louisiana, we grow alligators! I want to share a little more information about the Louisiana alligator with you.
Where does the name ‘alligator’ come from? Their scientific name is Alligator Mississippiensis and they are the largest reptile in North America. Although the first reptiles appeared about 300 million years ago, the ancestors of the American alligator came on the scene about 200 million years ago. The common name ‘alligator’ actually comes from the early Spanish explorers who first saw these giant reptiles and called them “”El legarto” which means “big lizard”. We also fondly call them ‘gators’ (but don’t confuse them with the University of Florida ‘Gators”); we eat ours. I guess the first Cajuns saw them and thought how can we cook them; Alligator sauce piquante, alligator balls, alligator tail meat, fried alligator and more.
How many alligators are there in Louisiana? Although seven states (Louisiana, Florida, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina) have some alligator population, Louisiana has the largest population of alligators in the country. It is estimated that Louisiana’s wild alligator population is around 2 million while our alligator farms have about 300,000 reptiles. In the wild they can be found in swamps, lakes, ponds, canals, rivers and bayous. They are most populous in Louisiana’s coastal marshes. Louisiana us almost 33 1/2 million acres total and 4.5 million acres are alligator habitat with 3 million of it being the coastal marshes. It’s estimated that 79 per cent of Louisiana’s coastal marshes are privately owned alligator habitat. By comparison the Atchafalaya Basin swamp (the Landry’s gator hunting area) is about 207,000 acres.
Visit our marshes and you’re pretty sure to see one. Check out our Louisiana Swamp Tours if you want to see for yourself.
How big are the ‘gators’ in Louisiana? Well they start off being around 8” to 12” in length at the time they hatch from their eggs. They have a growth rate that ranges from 2” to 12” per year and this depends on their habitat, sex and age. Males grow at a faster rate than the females and the younger gators grow faster than their elders. Male alligators can grow to be on around 13’t in length (or more) and can weigh up to 500 lbs or more. Females on the other hand grow to be about 9 feet in length and can weight up to 200 lbs or more.
Its said in Louisiana lore the largest alligator ever killed in the state measured about 19.2’ in length. It was found on Marsh Island, La in 1890. This is near Vermilion Bay in southern Louisiana and it weighed approximately 2,000 lbs.
When it comes to our farm raised alligators, farmers must return 12% of their hatched gators when they reach the size of 3’ to 5’ in length. This helps to insure a healthy population of alligators in the wild. The farmer’s remaining alligators can be sold. It is estimated that natural mortality rate in the wild would be a loss of the resource and that the farmers help to replace those gators.