American alligator

- Lives in swampy areas, rivers, streams, lakes and ponds in the Southeast.

- Can grow to 18 feet, although the average is 13 feet. Its tail is half its length.

- On average, weighs 450 to 600 pounds. Lives 35 to 50 years in the wild.

- Eats fish, turtles, wading birds, snakes, frogs and small mammals.

- Active year around, but most active in the warmer months. In breeding season in May, males "bellow" to females and other males in the area.

It's illegal:

- To harass, feed or entice alligators.

- Have, sell or transport alligator meat or parts.

- Keep an alligator without a permit. Fines range up to $5,000.

- For permits, contact any S.C. Department of Natural Resources office. To report concerns, call the radio room at 1-800-922-5431.

Alligator do's and don'ts

- Don't feed. Providing food for wild animals makes them bolder and encourages them to seek out people.

- Do keep your distance. Alligators are extremely strong and can move with a startling burst of speed on land over short distances. A safe distance from an adult alligator is about 60 feet.

- Don't disturb nests or small alligators. Some female alligators protect their young and may become aggressive if provoked.

- Do keep pets and children away from alligators. Large alligators do not recognize the difference between domestic pets and wild food sources.

- Don't swim in areas that are known alligator habitats. Splashing can attract alligators that think a prey animal is injured or a female animal is protecting its young or eggs.

Sources: S.C. Department of Natural Resources, University of Georgia and the National Parks Conservation Association