Alligators are perhaps our best known wildlife. For the most part they live in the many lagoons throughout Hilton Head. Alligators are cold-blooded (they have no mechanism to regulate body temperature) so they rely on their environment to survive. During colder weather alligators will come out of their lagoons and lie on the banks in the sun to raise their body temperature. In warmer weather they stay in the water to stay relatively cool. This means the best time to see alligators is in the spring and fall, but exceptions are common. If a lot of rain has lowered the water temperature in the lagoons, the alligators will come out to sun themselves. It also seems sometimes they come out of the water just because they feel like it, for example, on a cloudy day. In Winter (October to March) alligators hibernate, so are rarely seen.
Alligators in Hilton Head can grow to about 12 feet in length. Those larger than that are generally "removed" because they scare people. We locals have an arrangement with the alligators: we leave them alone and they leave us alone. You would be wise to honor that arrangement. Alligators are not normally aggressive toward humans but they are dangerous. An alligator can outrun a horse for a limited distance. Human adults are too big to be alligator prey, but small children and pets are vulnerable, and an angry alligator knows no fear and will go after anything that bothers it. Here are some rules to keep you out of harm's way:
A mother alligator protecting its nest is about the only circumstance an alligator will attack without provocation. This could occur in wooded or brushy areas near lagoons. Nesting is typically May through August, and the mother protects the hatchlings for one to three years.
Feeding alligators is illegal for a good reason. If an alligator sees humans as a source of food, it stands to reason it will approach humans. Alligators lack social skills - they won't ask nicely for a handout. To feed an alligator is to sign its death warrant, for it will become aggressive and will soon be "removed" (yes, killed).
Never let small children or pets play in lagoons or on the banks of lagoons. Alligators are so fast a pet can vanish before its owner can take a deep breath.
If you catch a fish in a lagoon and an alligator wants it, give it up. Reeling in the fish close to you is a very bad idea, as the alligator will see you as competition for food.
There have been very rare instances of alligators at the beaches in Hilton Head. Alligators can stand salt water but prefer fresh or brackish, so an alligator at the beach is out of its normal environment and probably lost. Just keep away from it - if possible report it.