Are There Alligators in Lake Murray, SC?
Lake Murray is a man-made lake northwest of Columbia, the state capital.
Alligators like to live along the coast, and there are about 100,000 of them in South Carolina.
Columbia is 133 miles from the coast, so it is on the edge of how far inland alligators are going to go.
Alligators like swampy areas, and they like rivers too.
The question is how far inland they go.
The lake is 41 miles long, 12 miles wide at the widest, and 200 feet deep in places.
- So, Are There Alligators in Lake Murray, S.C.?
- Alligator Species in Lake Murray
- Is it Safe to Swim in Lake Murray?
- Interesting Alligator Facts in Lake Murray
- Alligators vs. Crocodiles
- 3 Safety Tips for Swiming in Alligator-infested Waters
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Are alligators endangered?
- Now that alligators are not endangered, is there a market for them?
- Is it a good idea to own an alligator?
- Is it legal to own an alligator in South Carolina?
So, Are There Alligators in Lake Murray, S.C.?
The question of whether there are alligators in Lake Murray is controversial, and the answer depends on who you listen to.
Officials with the state game and fish commission used to say there were none, but in 2023 they conceded that an alligator can occasionally be seen on one side of the lake.
Also in 2023, the state parks department said there were no alligators at Lake Murray.
Local people and local writers say they have been there all along, and claim to have seen them more often than the game and fish officials say.
Some say what was seen was a caiman, a closely related creature that looks like an alligator but is smaller.
If there are any, there are not many.
In the summer of 2023, there was a creature seen often on the south side of the lake, and officials were not sure if it was an alligator or a caiman.
They recommended people stay away from the creature and after a while, it was not seen anymore.
In the winter of 2019, a woman said she found a dead two-foot-long alligator on her property in the lake.
State officials said the lake was too cold.
Over the last 10 years, those are the only two that have been cited with evidence.
An alligator would do fine at Lake Murray in the summer, but it is just above the range of where alligators like to live.
Winters get a little chilly, and alligators tend to go into brumation – a state similar to hibernation – when temperatures dip into the lower 50s.
An alligator could potentially survive the winter, but it would be difficult.
Alligator Species in Lake Murray
American Alligators are one of two species of alligator.
The American Alligator lives along the coast of the southeast United States, from Texas to Virginia.
They tend to like coastal areas but are slowly making their way inland.
Lake Murray is just north of what wildlife officials believe is the northern limit of alligators.
Alligators are part of the Crocodilian family, but crocodiles are a different species.
The only other species of alligator lives in china and is a smaller animal with a larger head.
Is it Safe to Swim in Lake Murray?
It is generally safe to swim in Lake Murray.
There are no designated swimming areas, but there are a lot of open spaces on the shoreline where you can get lake access.
The lake has several sandy beaches, and there is a gentle slope as you go into the water.
The water is clean with very little trash or obstructions in the way.
The water quality is just above the national average at 56 on a scale of 100, with the national average being 50.
While there has been a rare gator spotted at Lake Murray, no swimmers have reported seeing one.
Boating is the most popular activity on Lake Murray, as well as fishing.
People also like kayaking and skiing there.
In 2010 there were two boating accidents only moments apart where four people were killed.
Boating accidents are the most common cause of injury on the lake.
Since 2013, there have been 83 boating deaths in the state, but no stats are available for how many were at Lake Murray.
There are a few drownings each year at Lake Murray caused by people falling into the lake, or getting in trouble while swimming.
There are also some drownings when people fall off boats.
The number of accidents is well within the average for lakes, so the level of danger is not any worse than any other lake.
The water is clean and the water is relatively clear most of the time.
It’s very unlikely you will encounter an alligator or any other dangerous creature, though there are snakes at times.
Interesting Alligator Facts in Lake Murray
The state started having lottery hunts for alligators in 2008 when state officials determined the population of Gators was getting too big.
Applicants are chosen by the lottery to get licenses to hunt alligators.
While several have been caught in the state, none have been caught at Lake Murray.
In 1999 there was a story printed about a man claiming there were alligators on his property at the lake.
At that time, wildlife officials doubted his story and said there were no alligators at the lake.
It was not until 2023 that state officials conceded there “might” be alligators at the lake.
The state policy is to leave them alone if they are less than six feet long and not bothering anyone.
If an alligator longer than six feet is reported, they will investigate, and remove the alligator if they find it.
A legend of a loch-ness type serpent living at the lake has circulated since the lake was built in the 1930s.
Alligators store fat in their tails and can live a long time on that fat if necessary.
They can go as long as a year without eating.
Alligators can live for 60 years or more.
Alligators can enter a phase of brumation, like hibernation, where their body slows down a lot and they do not eat.
They barely move but they do drink.
They can survive in cold water like this for several months.
They could possibly survive a Lake Murray winter like this.
Alligators vs. Crocodiles
If there are any alligators at Lake Murray they are most likely the American Alligator version that lives along the coast between Texas and Virginia.
There are only two species of alligator, and the other one lives in China.
Alligators are black or gray, while crocodiles are tan or green.
Both have a lighter underbelly.
Alligators are better swimmers and have webbed feet.
Crocodiles can swim but prefer to stay on land.
Alligators prefer fresh water and can tolerate salt water only for a short time.
Crocodiles prefer salt water.
Alligators can bite with the force of 2700 pounds per square inch.
Crocodiles have the strongest bite of any creature at nearly 4,000 pounds per square inch.
To put that in perspective, the human bite is about 160 PSI.
Alligators do not have a lot of strength for opening their mouths though.
They can be held closed easily by a human.
Alligators have rounded mouths with about 80 teeth.
Their teeth are replaced as they wear out or are broken.
Their teeth are not visible when they close their mouths.
Crocodiles have a more pointed snout and a set of 66 teeth.
Their teeth are visible when the mouth is closed.
The southern tip of Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live together in the same area naturally.
Alligators grow up to 1000 pounds and 12 feet in length.
A crocodile can get to twice that size.
3 Safety Tips for Swiming in Alligator-infested Waters
You are very unlikely to see an alligator while swimming at Lake Murray, but there are still some safety measures to keep in mind.
- Watch for boats. Try to avoid swimming around where boats come ashore, and where boats are in general. Most accidents on Lake Murray involve boats as that is the most popular activity. There are no marked swimming areas at the lake, so you have to watch out for boats.
- Don’t go it alone. Anyone can get in trouble in the water, and it is good to have someone there just in case. It’s never a good idea to swim by yourself for that reason. Also, don’t swim at night. Animals are out looking for food. Lake Murray water is relatively clear, but you can’t see it at night. There are snakes that are a danger.
- Avoid alcohol and drugs. Alcohol and drugs can give you a false sense of what you can do, or what you are doing, and that makes water dangerous. If you are going to swim, avoid those things that could distract you or distort reality.
Whether there are alligators at Lake Murray is disputed, but there is some evidence there have been at least one or two there.
It is just beyond where alligators are known to live, and it would seem to be a little too cold for them.
Even so, wildlife does not always know where it is supposed to be, and at times they go places one would not expect.
Frequently Asked Questions
Are alligators endangered?
They are not now, but they used to be.
In the late 60s, they were declared an endangered species because they had been hunted to the point that there were not many left.
Wildlife conservation practices brought the population back.
There are now controlled lottery hunts in South Carolina to think the population.
No hunter has found one at Lake Murray.
Now that alligators are not endangered, is there a market for them?
Alligators that are caught in legal hunts can be sold to meat producers.
There is a growing demand for alligator meat around the country.
Alligator hides, or leather, were once in fashion and they may be getting popular again.
Preserved heads and feet are also sold at gift shops.
The processing is very labor intensive and that means the meat and leather are very expensive.
Is it a good idea to own an alligator?
No, alligators do not make good pets.
They may be cute when they are small, but they get big fast and are nearly impossible to control or take care of.
They remain wild animals regardless of what you do.
Sometimes people will realize it was not a good idea to get one and they will release it into a river.
This is illegal in all states.
Most people do not have the space or expertise to take care of an alligator once it gets bigger than a few feet long.
Alligators also need a lot to eat.
Keeping an alligator is dangerous for the owner and not good for the animal.
Is it legal to own an alligator in South Carolina?
South Carolina is one of five states that have no licensing or permit requirements to own an alligator.
This means you can own one as there is no law saying you cannot.
Even so, it is illegal to kill one in the wild outside of the season without a permit.
Permits are issued on a lottery basis.
But possessing one is not itself illegal.