Alligators are reptiles native to The United States of America, Mexico, and Canada. There are various types of alligators in these countries, but generally speaking, they are all large and powerful animals that live in or nearby water.
Alligators are often seen as scary animals, however, they aren’t naturally aggressive creatures. So, where does this idea that they are menacing beasts come from? Well, today we’re going to be looking at the symbolism surrounding alligators, including how they are viewed by different cultures and what an encounter with one could spiritually mean for you.
Alligator Characteristics And Facts
Before we look at the symbolism of these reptiles, it’s important to establish a few key characteristics and facts.
One of the most fascinating facts about alligators is that they are ancient. The alligators we see today were around 85 million years ago, along with other members of the crocodilian species such as crocodiles and caimans. This means that alligators were around during the late cretaceous period, and as such lived amongst dinosaurs.
While we can’t know for sure what they looked and behaved like back then, we can examine their behavior today. One of the most striking features of an alligator is their gigantic tails, which they use for swimming and hunting. Their tails usually take up around half of their body, which typically measures up at around 12ft, and allows them to wade through water at lightning-quick speeds.
While their tails help them to hunt down prey, it’s their bite that secures the kill and bags them a meal. When it comes to killing prey, they bite down with 2960 pounds of force. It goes without saying that it’s impossible to avoid or survive a bite of such force.
As they are semiaquatic animals, they hunt in water and on land. In water, they hunt all types of fish, frogs, and turtles while on land they hunt small mammals such as beavers, raccoons, and small monkeys. Interestingly, and perhaps disturbingly, they have also been known to eat their own babies.
In parts of Florida, gators have been known to take down large mammals such as panthers. One of their killing techniques on land is it drag a mammal into the water and drown it before feasting on their meat. If they are struggling to source adequate meat, they will also eat fruit.
One final thing to mention is that the sex of alligators is determined by the weather. If the egg develops in warm conditions, a male alligator will hatch from it, while if it develops in cool conditions, a female will hatch from it.
Now that we have established some important information and facts about alligators, we are in a better position to discuss the symbolism of these fantastic creatures. For those who believe in spirituality, these animals are very significant with some Native American Tribes claiming alligators as spirit animals. These are spirit guides that help guide tribe members through their lives.
More generally speaking, alligators are symbols of wisdom. This is because, as a species, these reptiles have walked the earth for millions of years. In addition to this, alligators are very cunning and smart hunters which can use tricks to fool their prey into a false sense of security before striking. This includes laying traps of sticks on their nose for birds to land on and camouflaging themselves in marshland.
On a similar note, they are also symbols of power and instinct. This, again, is due to their hunting techniques which sometimes rely on attacking quickly and decisively to capture their prey before they even have time to think about escaping. They are incredibly powerful animals, with some alligators weighing in at over 1000 pounds.
Alligator symbolism in Native American mythology and folklore
As touched on above, alligators are important animals for Native American cultures. Across all tribes, the alligator is a respected animal due to its power but they also represent spiritual cleansing and healing due to the fact they live by fresh water. Certain tribes even wear necklaces made out of alligator teeth for protection.
Native Americans who lived in Ohio in around 1200 AD tell a story of an underwater panther who was the guardian of the water. This ‘underwater panther’ would protect the water at all costs and would eat anyone who dared enter the Ohio River. It is now believed that this panther was actually an alligator.
Other tribes, such as the Choctaw people, look at alligators as symbols of teaching. This comes from a legend about a huntsman who struck a bargain with a dying alligator. The story tells of an unlucky huntsman who came across an alligator lying next to an empty pool. The alligator needed water to survive and promised to teach the man how to successfully hunt if he took him to some fresh water.
Despite being afraid of the gator, the huntsman took the creature to a new swamp. Upon entering the swamp, the alligator gave the huntsman some valuable tips for hunting which lead to him successfully hunting an old buck. This story symbolizes not only the value of teaching but also the value of steering away from prejudice.
Finally, the Seminole tribe has a sacred alligator dance which symbolizes the value of loving relationships. This suggests that this Floridian tribe associates alligators with love and romance.
Alligator symbolism in China
Aside from North America and Mexico, China is the only place in the world to have native alligators. The Chinese dragon is a monumentally important symbolic figure to Chinese people but some theories suggest that the dragon was an alligator all along.
When Marco Polo wrote about his travels to China in the 1200s, he described alligators as ‘dragons who didn’t fly’. If you go back further to Chinese mythology, you will see tales of a creature called Jiaolong. This creature took the form of a dragon but coincidentally lived in water – just like alligators.
What Does It Mean When You Encounter An Alligator?
Encountering an alligator is understandably a scary prospect, regardless of whether it happens in your waking life or if it happens in your dreams. If you are being attacked by an alligator in your dreams then you are likely to wake up with your mind filled with negative emotions, while if you spot an alligator on a trip through a swamp then it may excite you.
1. The value of patience
One key symbolic notion to take away from an alligator encounter is the importance of patience. You are most likely to encounter an alligator in real life in freshwater with just its eyes popping out of the surface. Alligators can stay in this position for hours on end, not moving a muscle, before springing into action without warning to take down prey.
An encounter with an alligator could therefore be a message that you also need to be patient in life instead of forcing things through. Perhaps you feel like you’re forcing yourself to like someone because you feel the pressure to get into a relationship. This alligator encounter is a reminder to be patient because the right person is out there and will show up in your life in time.
2. Trust your instincts
An alligator dream or encounter could also be a message from your subconscious or the universe that you need to trust your gut instinct. Alligators trust their primal instincts to catch prey and to protect themselves and you need to trust yours too.
Perhaps you are currently in a relationship where you are starting to doubt your partner’s true intentions. Perhaps some red flags have been appearing and you have started to wonder whether they are being unfaithful to you. If you have been ignoring these red flags because you are scared of being right then, unfortunately, you need to switch on and accept the truth. Your gut is telling you something is wrong for a reason and you need to have faith in these instincts.
3. A reminder that you can get through anything
Survival is key to an alligator’s life. While they are fierce predators, they are also prey for some large cats and snakes. Luckily for alligators, they can often fight off their predators and survive for up to 50 years in the wild. On top of that, they are a species that has lived for 85 million years! These guys know how to stand the test of time.
An encounter or dream with an alligator could, therefore, be a message that you also need to dig in and get through a tough situation in life. It can sometimes be easy to give up and accept defeat but if you want to enjoy success in life you often have to fight through difficult spells. Perhaps you’ve been ready to hand your notice in at work, well take this alligator encounter as a sign to reconsider.
To conclude, alligators are animals that have various symbolic meanings. While they are most commonly associated with power and aggression, there is actually a lot more to alligators than that. Instead, we should associate them more with things like wisdom and patience which are traits more befitting of their nature.