LARRY gator (1)

This alligator was captured in a Tennessee pond.

The gators have arrived - 

“See you later alligator,” is no longer past tense in Tennessee.

We’re seeing gators now.

A 7-footer was captured in West Tennessee’s Wolf River this summer, and closer home a smaller one was caught and removed from a pond in Bradley County.

Wildlife experts theorize the latter gator was a pet that had been released, but the big one was likely home-grown. Its presence didn’t come as a surprise; confirmed gator-sightings have been on the increase in recent years in West Tennessee.

It’s probably just a matter of time until alligators arrive at a pool, puddle or pond in your neighborhood.

The gators are following the Eastern migration of coyotes and armadillos. Both invasive species moved from the Southwest into West Tennessee, and from there steadily marched eastward. Now they are everywhere in Middle Tennessee and parts of the east state.

The coyotes and armadillos liked it here, and evidently invited alligators to join them.

Cougars have also arrived in Tennessee, after years of denial by wildlife officials.

Tennessee’s cougars – called panthers or “painters” by old-timers -- are indigenous; they were here when the pioneers arrived. My great-grandfather killed one in the late 1800s.

Gators, on the other hand, have no Tennessee ties except during football season.

The Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, in response to the recent alligator arrivals, wants to put to rest rumors that it has been stocking them. It hasn’t. But it HAS been stocking alligator snapping turtles in some West Tennessee waters, which probably accounts for the rumors.

Alligator snapping turtles are indigenous and considered a threatened species. The TWRA believes they deserve their niche on the plant, hence the Agency’s restoration program.

Alligator snapping turtles are aggressive, and with their steel-trap jaws can put a serious hurt on someone. But they obviously don’t represent the same threat as genuine gators.

Alligators are known to snatch pets and even livestock that ventures too close to their lairs. Like coyotes, hungry gators are not picky eaters -- they’ll chow down on whatever they can catch. They are territorial and protective of their young, which adds to the danger to intrusive humans.

Gator attacks on humans are rare, but that’s little consolation if you find yourself on the wrong end of one. There are confirmed fatalities.

In Tennessee alligators are protected, as is every species for which there is no designated hunting season. If one is spotted, notify the TWRA and let the experts handle it.

Meanwhile the Agency reminds the public that it is illegal to release any non-native species into the wild. That goes for the cute little 6-inch gator you brought home from the reptile farm during a Florida vacation, and watched it grow into a 4-foot jaw-snapping monster that tried to eat Fluffy.

Releasing it into a nearby pond is a mistake that could come back to bite you.

It appears we’re going to have plenty of home-grown gators in the future without stocking any more.