KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — Wildlife officials have confirmed that alligators are in the Volunteer State, but have the ancient reptiles swam or crawled their way into East Tennessee waterways? The short answer is, it’s “highly unlikely.”
Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency wildlife information specialist Matt Cameron offered some details on why the presence of alligators in East Tennessee could be unlikely due to their biology and the current conditions here near the Smokies.
“I hope it doesn’t sound like I’m contradicting myself saying it’s too cold for them here but on the other hand, they can survive in cold water,” Cameron said in an email to WATE 6 On Your Side. “They will only naturally migrate into places that are comfortable for them to survive and reproduce. East Tennessee just doesn’t seem to fit their overall needs for both.”
On the other end of the Volunteer State, alligators are naturally expanding their range into southwestern Tennessee from southern border states, according to TWRA. The agency has not stocked alligators in any parts of Tennessee.
“Alligators expanding into Tennessee is just another species that we must learn to coexist with like many of the other southern states,” Cameron said. “It is, however, highly unlikely that they will ever expand their range into East Tennessee.”
Cameron elaborated on the biology of alligators and the likely reason why they have not found East Tennessee as hospitable.
“Alligators are ectothermic, meaning they cannot regulate their own body temperature which varies with the temperature of their surroundings. That’s why they thrive in tropical and subtropical environments and why they aren’t native to cold areas,” Cameron said. “Put simply, water temperatures in East Tennessee get too low during the winter for them to thrive… although they could survive.”
They could survive because cold temperatures cause reptiles and amphibians to go into brumation, which is like hibernation for ectothermic or “cold-blooded animals,” according to Cameron.
TWRA’s website page about alligators in Tennessee states that 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.”
Overall, TWRA has little concern for alligators migrating into East Tennessee, which is home to more thousands of miles of lakes, rivers and waterways.
“TWRA would like to remind everyone that alligators are a protected species and catching or shooting one is a violation of the law,” its informational page on alligators states. “If you come across one while exploring the outdoors in West TN, leave it alone and enjoy Tennessee’s unique biodiversity.”