Ivory Detter
Alligator at Millwood State Park

Alligators can be observed during the warm months of the year at Millwood State Park in the southwestern region of Arkansas, and they are an important part of the aquatic habitat here. Follow along as we go on a virtual alligator spotting adventure! All of the alligators in the following pictures have made Millwood State Park their home. 

An alligator almost entirely submerged underwater with only its nose and eyes exposed

American alligators are difficult to observe if you do not understand what to look for. Much of the time alligators are skimming just below the surface of the water, occasionally peeking out and taking in their surroundings, like the one above. An alligator is specialized for this kind of stealth; its eyes and nose are positioned perfectly to be above water while the rest of its body is submerged.  

a partially submerged alligator with head and tail exposed

Have you spotted an alligator in Millwood Lake? If so, did you notice how the alligator blends in perfectly with their environment? The ridges along an alligator’s body and tail camouflage it perfectly in rippling water. Though alligators can become large, their color and patterns keep them hidden nicely. 

two alligators lying on the bank of Millwood Lake

Though alligators can move swiftly on land, they are more comfortable in water. Alligators usually only come on land to absorb heat, lay eggs, and protect nests. What do you think the alligators above are doing?  

an alligator with its mouth open

It looks pretty intimidating when an alligator has its mouth open. Your first thought was probably, “The alligator is hunting, right?” What is actually happening is quite different. An alligator sometimes opens its mouth when sunning to regulate body heat, like a human sweating or a dog panting.  

two alligators sunning with a great egret nearby

The alligator in this picture is laying with a large bird called an egret nearby, which seems kind of strange. Shouldn’t the egret be afraid the alligator is going to try to eat it? Actually, alligators are very lazy during the day. They spend their nights actively looking for food and their days absorbing heat. This alligator likely has no interest in spending valuable energy trying to find food during the day.  

alligator partially in the water along the lake bank

Alligators are not picky eaters. When I ask people what they think alligators eat, most earnestly reply, “MEAT!” And that is true. Much of an alligator’s diet is made up of frogs, turtles, fish, and even other smaller alligators.  

Would you believe me if I told you that alligators also eat fruit? Yes, alligators are known to consume some common fruits like grapes and even oranges straight from the tree if it is available. Though grapes and oranges do not naturally occur in Millwood State Park, other similar wild growing fruits, like muscadines and persimmons, are plentiful. Do you think alligators eat muscadines and persimmons?  

a large alligator suns on the bank facing the water

a large alligator swims in Millwood Lake

Alligators don’t grow as large as they did in the past. Early travelers to America would have thought the alligators in these pictures small compared to some alligators that could reach 18 feet in length. You don’t have to worry about running into a giant ‘gator of that size today, though. Now, male alligators average 11 to 12 feet in length, and females average seven to eight feet in length.  

alligator with body submerged under water

Okay, okay, but why are alligators important? Alligators have earned the title of “ecosystem engineer.” When the weather gets cold or the alligators need a safe place to retreat, they build a den in the bank of the lake or river to shelter in. These “gator holes” provide wet and dry homes for a variety of other creatures to live.  

American alligators are an important part of the aquatic habitat at Millwood State Park. Come on your own alligator spotting adventure at Millwood State Park. Be sure to talk to park staff about where to find alligators and how to do so safely.   

Like most alligators you may see in nature, we have only skimmed the surface of interesting things about alligators in this photo essay. If you want to discover more, go ahead and “take a dive" and see what else interests you about these prehistoric reptiles: