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Gators in Galveston!    

June 6, 2023

Alligators in the care of the Sea Life Facility at Texas A&M University at Galveston
Alligators in the care of the Sea Life Facility at Texas A&M University at Galveston

By Taylor Bounds, Content Specialist

Gators galore in Galveston, Texas! After several alligator sightings on and around the island, bldg. 311 sat down with Katie St. Clair ‘07, Sea Life Facility Manager and lecturer in the marine biology department to talk about the crocodilian critters

Why are we seeing alligators around the island? Can they live in the saltwater? 

While American alligators are typically found in freshwater environments, it is not unusual to see adult alligators in the marshes or even off the beachfront. More than likely, the alligators are taking advantage of our rich estuarine ecosystems as hunting grounds, since a favorite prey item is blue crabs. Along with warmer temperatures moving into summer and alligators becoming more active, we are in the middle of their mating season, which runs through the end of June. Additionally, after heavy rainstorms there is increased freshwater inflows into Galveston Bay and alligators can get washed into the bay/Gulf of Mexico and we often see reports of alligators on the beach.

Why can saltwater crocodiles live in the saltwater but not alligators? 

Unlike saltwater crocodiles, alligators do not possess salt glands, which pumps the harmful salt out of their bodies, however, adult alligators can tolerate saltwater for short periods of time. Juvenile alligators do not possess this tolerance of saltwater and will become stressed when exposed to saltwater. This research was performed by Dr. Lene Petersen and her graduate students in the Sea Life Facility a couple of years ago.

Does Texas have saltwater crocodiles?

No, crocodiles are not found in Texas. The American crocodile can only be found in south Florida and throughout the Caribbean.

How do you tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?

Alligators have a wide, U-shaped snout, with only the top teeth visible when looking at the alligator from the side. Crocodiles have a narrow, V-shaped snout, with both the upper and lower teeth visible when looking at the crocodile from the side.

What other prey do alligators prefer?

Alligators are apex predators and are indiscriminate feeders. They will eat anything they can catch, such as fish, turtles, crayfish, frogs, birds and mammals (such as racoons, opossum, rabbits and even deer).

What should people do if they encounter an alligator?

Enjoy viewing the animal from a safe distance: at least 30 feet away. If you have a close encounter with an alligator, back up slowly. Alligators are not aggressive and typically retreat when encountered by humans; however, they will defend themselves if threatened or provoked. If the alligator becomes a nuisance, contact your local Texas Parks and Wildlife Department regional office for removal and relocation.

St. Clair said that “Most importantly, the difference between a crocodile and an alligator is that you will see alligators later and crocodiles in a while.”


Media contact:
Taylor Bounds

Texas A&M University at Galveston is the marine and maritime branch campus of Texas A&M University which educates nearly 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students in science, business, engineering, liberal arts and transportation. It is driving the development of the blue economy in the Gulf Coast Region and is a critical contributor to Texas A&M's rare land-, sea-, space-grant mission with nearly $10 million in research expenditures.

Texas A&M-Galveston is also home to the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of six state maritime academies and the only one in the southern United States, which trains over 400 cadets annually for maritime service and employment around the world.

Texas A&M-Galveston is located in Galveston, Texas on the Gulf Coast where it is surrounded by industry, environment and programs essential to fulfilling its special-purpose mission. Aggies are known for their deep commitment to the success of each other and their strong desire to serve.