How to Spot An Alligator or Crocodile in A Pond (We Asked An Expert)

american alliagor in water
Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Alec Jarboe, MS

Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Alec Jarboe, MS

Alec is a herpetologist with extensive hands-on experience working with crocodilians, venomous snakes, hylid frogs, turtles, and more.

Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Alec Jarboe, MS

Fact Checked & Reviewed By: Alec Jarboe, MS

Alec is a herpetologist with extensive hands-on experience working with crocodilians, venomous snakes, hylid frogs, turtles, and more.

No matter how much you might admire these ancient creatures, finding an alligator or a crocodile in your pond can be a frightening experience.

I think it can even be more frightening when you’re not sure whether there is an actual gator or crocodile in your pond, or it’s your own wild imagination.

So how can you spot an alligator or crocodile in the water?

Alligators and crocodiles enjoy sunbathing, so, you are likely to spot large indentations or grooves on the shoreline. Listen for hissing and look for sliding marks where the alligator or crocodile could’ve reentered the water, but avoid looking for them during dusk and dawn since that’s when they’re most active.

Conservation biologist Alec Jarboe, who has decades of hands-on experience with alligators and crocodiles, explained besides the telltale signs like sliding marks along the shore it’s a very real possibility that you’ll see the animal basking on the bank or “cruising” through the water as they swim with their eyes open and snout just above the water.

While you should be very careful looking for these animals at night, Jarboe also suggests using a high-powered flashlight at night to see the eye shine of a crocodilian in the water which can make spotting them even easier.

Again, don’t need to be close for this to work, and do not get close to the water if you suspect one of these big reptiles is calling your pond home!

That’s the quick answer and enough to get started but we’ll take a much closer look in the rest of the article.

Do Alligators and Crocodiles Live in Ponds?

If you’re wondering whether an alligator or a crocodile can get into your pond that is located on your private property then the answer is yes. If your pond is actually large enough to contain an animal of their size then this body of fresh water could easily become their permanent home.

But before you start looking for an alligator or a crocodile in your private pond it’s important to figure out whether these giant reptilians live in your area.

Alligators don’t just live anywhere in the world. Aside from the Chinese alligator that can be as the name suggests found in China, the American alligator is mostly found in the freshwaters of southeastern America. However, Jarboe explains that “alligators can travel through and temporarily use salt water to both hunt and rest in but it isn’t their preferred environment”

If you live in Florida or Louisiana then it’s pretty likely that you will come across alligators in rivers, lakes, and swamps, as well as ponds.

Crocodiles on the other hand can be found in many places across the world, like Africa, Australia, Asia, and Central and North America. Unlike the gators, aren’t as picked about salt water and Jarboe points out that “The major difference is that crocodiles can drink the salt water and filter it out, while alligators need to return to fresh water to drink.”

So whether your pond is freshwater, brackish, or even pretty salty, there’s a chance that one of these crocodilians could call it home.

How to Tell if There Is an Alligator or Crocodile in Your Pond

First, consider your geography. Jarboe told The Reptile Room that both species are common in south Florida but “Crocodiles are not found north of Tampa on the west coast and Melbourne on the east coast, and even then are quite rare outside of the three southernmost Florida counties.”

If you live in south Florida where both alligators and crocodiles reside then it can be difficult to make out whether the new resident of your pond is actually a gator or a crocodile, or even a caiman for that matter!

These animals may not look that different if all you have is a quick glance, but if you’re able to see them basking (from a safe distance of course), the size of the animal will give you a great clue to which species you’re dealing with. Alligators are smaller than crocodiles and are usually around 10-15 feet long (3 – 4.5 meters).

When comparing to alligators, Jarboe explains that “Most American crocodiles come in under 18ft (5.4 meters), especially in Florida. However, Saltwater crocodiles (C. porosus) and Nile crocodiles (C. niloctus) in other parts of the globe can frequently reach 20 feet or more.”

That means there’s likely only a few feet of difference between alligators and crocodiles in the United States making it hard to tell the difference without a good look. However, you can still learn to spot either species in your pond, pool, or any other body of water with a little knowledge.

If you live in Florida the safest thing you can do is to always assume an alligator or even a crocodile are present and act accordingly.

Three Signs of an Alligator or Crocodile

Most Floridians, or people that live in areas where alligators are prevalent, will tell you that they can spot these animals from miles away. From the type of bubbles they make when they’re underwater, to the location of their nests.

But if you’re someone who hasn’t developed an eye for alligator or crocodile habitats then unless the body of water is clear like a swimming pool then you are probably not going to spot these animals easily.

So, what should you look for?

Look For Markings on the Shore

You will have to look at the muddy shoreline of your pond to find the first and obvious signs that an alligator or a crocodile for that matter has entered your pond.

Since the alligator bellies are so low that they touch the ground, you should be able to see large indentations where this animal or animals walked on the bank, or laid sunbathing. You are also likely to spot sliding marks in the areas where the alligator has re-entered the pond’s water. Eventually, these re-used slides will create what looks like “paths” through tall vegetation on the water’s edge.

Listen For Hissing

If you were oblivious to the fact that an alligator was residing in your pond and you suddenly heard a hissing noise then make sure to get away from the pond.

According to Mark Kramer, chief naturalist at Armand Bayou Nature Center “Hissing, on the other hand, means they’re telling you to get back. They do that when they feel defensive, and if you’re near an alligator that’s hissing at you, you’re too close.”

You can clearly hear the warning sound in this video:

So, make sure to avoid any possible confrontation and call animal services instead!

Look For Tracks

Besides the slide spots on the shore, you can also look for tracks near the pond. Alec Jarboe shared a picture he took on Ossabaw Island in Georgina showing the tracks of an adult alligator, including the footprints and tail slide, moving from the beach back into the dunes, presumably into one of the intertidal ponds behind the sand dunes:

alligator tracks in Ossabaw Island

It may vary by the substrate that you see the tracks, look for the telltale combination of feet and tail that you see above.

What Should You Do if an Alligator Is in Your Pond?

I do want to start by saying that if you suspect that there is an alligator living in your property’s pond then it’s not a good idea to go out and look for them or set up traps that might be illegal in your state.

While there are certain telltale signs that these animals might be using your pond as their new home, you should make sure that you’re keeping your distance from the shoreline or the shallow waters.

Despite their size, alligators have the uncanny ability to become one with their habitat, and having scaly green, brown, or grey skin means that they can often be mistaken for a rocky surface or a log.

While both gators and crocodiles love sleeping under the sun, they also lie under cover of the water across the shallow waters, concealed by the reeds and wild vegetation. That’s because these are ambush predators. Besides their strength and size, this ambush aspect can make both species more dangerous and if they make the very rare decision to attack then you won’t see it coming and not much you can do at that point.

However, Jarboe shared that, “I’ve actually been wading through swamps and kicked American alligators before and most just swim the other way.” In other words, it’s rare for either species to seek out a confrontation with humans.

Even though their legs are short alligators are pretty fast, and even though humans can outrun an alligator it can be challenging if you’re older, have a disability, or simply panic and freeze. So, if you have even the slightest suspicion that a large reptile has moved into your pond, you need to call professional alligator removal services.

This is the safest approach, for you, your family, and the animal itself. If it turns out that your pond is alligator and crocodile free then such services can still be very helpful by giving you tips on how to prevent these animals from entering your pond.

How to Prevent an Alligator From Getting in Your Pond

Whether you just removed an alligator from your pond, or you are worried that you will one day encounter an alligator there, it’s important to take some measures and make sure that these animals will not set foot on your property.

Eliminate Alligator Attractants

Alligators aren’t necessarily that picky when it comes to their home as long as it’s a fresh body of water that is large enough to contain them then they can be found basically anywhere.

That being said, you can still make your pond a less attractive residence by clearing out the wild vegetation, around the shoreline, and getting rid of all the reeds, and anything else that they can use as a place to camouflage themselves or build a nest.

Make sure your pond remains as clear as possible and while a little bit of algae or discoloration is normal, by keeping up your pond clean from debris it’s less likely that an alligator chooses that place as their home.

Speaking of clean, if you intend on fishing in your pond then make sure you leave the shoreline clean after you’re done. Any parts left behind or tossed back into the pond can smell very attractive to the alligator.

This brings me to our next attractant, food. You need to also make sure you’re not feeding the local birds, as well as the turtles or fish that might be living in your pond. This will encourage an alligator to come and potentially stay in your pond unless you remove their food supply.

Similarly, you should make sure your pets don’t come near the pond because alligators can mistake dogs and cats for prey and this can also serve as an attraction.

Install a Safety Fence

If the size of your pond allows it and you have the budget for it I would definitely recommend installing a fence around the body of water.

The fence should also be high enough, and deep enough otherwise, an alligator could climb over it, or it could dig under it and enter the pond anyway. You could also install an electric fence or you could install an underwater fence that rises up to the height of the water or above.

Don’t Feed the Alligator

While I did already mention the importance of removing the food supply, I think it’s important to emphasize the fact that feeding alligators is wrong and it’s also illegal.

According to the University of Florida “when humans feed alligators, it causes the alligators to lose their natural fear of humans and to associate humans with food.” Jarboe puts it even more bluntly and says “There’s a saying in the reptile conservation community that ‘a fed gator is a dead gator’ because gators that get fed either end up attacking someone or following people into somewhere they shouldn’t and get killed as a result.”

So, whether you’re discarding fish entrails into the pond, you don’t clear out your trash, or you’re actively feeding the gator, you are inviting this animal into your pond, and even your yard, which is really dangerous.

Professional Alligator Removal Services

You can take the above precautions to keep the alligator from entering your pond, but if you want more advice on the matter or you think an alligator managed to inhabit your pond after all, then make sure to call your local professional alligator or wildlife removal services.

Don’t try to trap or remove the alligator yourself because you are more likely to end up hurting yourself or the animal. So, let the professionals deal with it!

Closing Thoughts

If you live in an area where alligators and crocodiles reside then don’t be surprised to find one living in your pond.

Usually sliding marks and large grooves across the pond’s bank are the two main signs to look for when you want to figure out if there is an alligator or a crocodile residing in your pond.

These animals could’ve lived in the pond before you even bought your property or they could’ve moved into it years later because they found the place safe, especially if it felt like a suitable area to make their nest.

No matter what the reason might be, it’s important to call professional alligator removal services, so they can do the investigation themselves, remove the creature if need be, and advise you on how to prevent this from ever happening again!