Minnesota Gator

Nov 16, 2020

With the recent media frenzy surrounding the election, did you happen to catch the story about the Minnesota gator? The Masked Biologist did, and he crafted it into this week’s Wildlife Matters.

There has been some major political turmoil recently that has stolen the media spotlight, which means many other stories are slipping through the cracks. One interesting story I saw recently was about a Minnesota deer hunter who harvested a deer and a 36-inch alligator in the same day.

Minnesota’s firearms deer seasons start far earlier than ours; it’s legal to hunt the first weekend of November with a firearm. Cory Klocek succeeded in harvesting a 10-point buck with a shotgun, and as part of what followed he saw something unusual—an alligator about 36 inches long. Klocek called the Minnesota DNR who gave him permission to shoot the animal and keep it. This was in the area of East Bethel Minnesota, roughly 30 miles north of the Twin Cities.

So what is a juvenile alligator doing in Minnesota? I say juvenile because they are usually not considered old enough to disperse and mate until they are at least four feet long. Prior to that they are pretty vulnerable to predation, including cannibalism, so they stay together as a pod and don’t go far from mom’s friendly waters. Growth rates for alligators vary depending on the length of the warm season, in cold areas less than six inches a year, in warm areas probably more like 12-14 inches. So this alligator would be estimated to be between 3-6 years old. There are only a couple of ways it could have gotten there—unassisted or assisted dispersal. Unassisted it would have had to walk or swim.  Okay, or be hatched there from an egg which means there would have had to be at least one adult male and one adult female alligator in that pond. There is no mention of that, it seems doubtful.

It definitely did not walk there, although they are good at travelling over land we are talking about a species whose typical juvenile dispersal distance is 20-25 miles and the closest northern extent of their established geographic range is a thousand miles away. So maybe it swam? The Mississippi River does connect Mississippi and Minnesota. Alligators are semi-aquatic and are great swimmers, but now we are talking about probably 1,500 river miles minimum. Upstream. Through dozens of Army Corps of Engineers lock and dams. This also seems unlikely.

It had to be assisted dispersal, likely human, not animal. It wasn’t dropped by a bird. A migrating bird would have had to carry a viable egg robbed from a buried and guarded nest or a live juvenile gator a thousand miles and dropped it here. So either it got into a shipping container of some kind and hitched a ride, or a person purposely put it there. I saved the most likely scenario for last. Someone got an alligator thinking it would be a cool pet, and when it got just big enough to be expensive or dangerous, they decided to release it. It’s too big to flush down the toilet, and it had to be released in 2020 because it would not have survived even one northeastern Minnesota winter.

I read every available media account, and I have to tell you I am surprised but not a single one linked this to a prior event. In fact, back in 2013, Minnesota DNR staff shot not one but two alligators in Scandia Minnesota. In that case, an individual claimed ownership and explained that someone must have stolen his two alligators only to set them free later.

Yeah, right. Someone broke into his house and stole two juvenile alligators, had a change of heart, and released them into the wilds of Minnesota’s Mississippi river marshlands. About thirty miles away from this year’s observation. Halfway between these two locations is the suburb of Forest Lake Minnesota. I am no fish and game detective (or am I?) but it might be interesting to do an internet search on alligators for sale in or around that area.

Alligators are legal to keep as pets in Minnesota, but some locations such as Minneapolis have ordinances against alligators.

Before you go deer hunting this year, enter your DNR tip line or local non-emergency law enforcement phone number into your mobile phone, and look up regulations on unprotected animals, just in case you see a feral hog…or an alligator.