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Are alligators inevitable for Charlotte’s lakes as summers get warmer?

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If you believe the growing number of cell phone videos posted on the internet, alligators are showing up in all kinds of unexpected places in the Carolinas.

Two such videos made national news in recent weeks: One of an alligator thrashing around on a screened-in back porch in South Carolina, and a second of two alligators fighting along the 18th hole of an Ocean Isle Beach golf course.

Charlotteans can’t help but be uneasy.

Is it inevitable that global warming will lure these reptiles to the waters of Lake Norman and Lake Wylie?

Biologist Jessie Birckhead with the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission says the short answer is “No.”

Where alligators live in the state is less about summer heat and more about preferred habitat, she says. “That’s not to say one couldn’t live in the Charlotte area, but it would likely be a case of someone placing one there, someone who illegally had a pet and let it go,” Birckhead says. “It would not be a matter of the animal getting there on its own.”

Most of North Carolina’s alligators are found in the southeastern corner of the state. A Carolina Coastal Review study suggested the farthest west they might appear would be Richmond County, though none have been recorded living naturally past eastern Scotland County.

That’s four counties away from Charlotte.

Alligators prefer the coastal creeks, ponds, wetlands and rivers that provide vast, interconnected habitats, experts say.

“It’s a matter of finding the right habitat for each stage of the animal’s life,” said Birckhead. “What a female needs for nesting is not the same habitat needed to raise her young. There is a really complex wetland system at the coast plain that you should don’t have in the Piedmont.”

Most of North Carolina's alligators are found in the southeastern corner of the state, excluding the Outer Banks. A Carolina Coastal Review study suggests the farthest west they might appear would be Richmond County, though none have been recorded past eastern Scotland County.

That’s four counties away from Charlotte.

Coincidentally, reports of alligator bites in North Carolina are rare, and those that have occurred typically involved someone who chose to interact with an alligator, Birckhead says.

“We’ve never had an unprovoked bite with an alligator,” she says. “It’s often people who attempt to move an alligator with no training. They (alligators) will response just like you and I if they feel threatened.”

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