There are no piranhas in Tennessee's lakes or monkeys in Tennessee's forests - YET - but you never know what the future might bring.

   Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency has confirmed that alligator sightings in Tennessee are true. "There's probably single digits of alligators in the state, so it's highly unlikely that you'll encounter one," said Matt Cameron with TWRA.

   According to the TWRA, alligators are naturally expanding into Tennessee from southern border states. "It is possible that we see a few more show up in Tennessee because they're coming up out of Mississippi and Arkansas and places where there are alligator populations,” said Cameron.

   Alligators are opportunistic feeders that prey on fish, turtles, snakes, frogs, and waterfowl. Occasionally they will feed on larger animals such as possums, raccoons, and deer. Alligators can survive Tennessee winters by going into a hibernation-like dormancy called brumation. They can withstand periods of ice by sticking their snout out of the water before it freezes, which allows them to continue breathing.

   Several months ago, a seven-foot alligator was videoed by TWRA Region 1 personnel in West Tennessee at the Wolf River WMA in Fayette County. A short time after that, a four-foot alligator was captured in East Tennessee’s Monroe County.

  TWRA confirmed that they have not stocked any alligators in Tennessee. They say that alligators expanding into Tennessee are just another species with whom we must learn to coexist, like many of the other southern states.

   TWRA reminds everyone that alligators are a protected species and catching or shooting one is a violation of the law. If you come across one while exploring the outdoors in our beautiful state, they say to “leave it alone and enjoy Tennessee’s unique biodiversity.” However, most anyone in our area who might happen to encounter an alligator in the Tennessee River, or any other body of water, will probably not immediately think of “enjoying Tennessee’s unique biodiversity!” The most important thing to remember if you DO happen to see one of these scary reptiles in the river or anywhere else, do not attempt to touch it or catch it, and contact TWRA to let them know the alligator’s location when it was spotted.

   There are many other species of animals that have also begun to find their way to the Volunteer State. Some, like the armadillo, have been here for a while now. Armadillos, once associated primarily with Texas and Latin America, have spread their range east across the South’s southernmost states and have now migrated further north into Tennessee. TWRA notes, “Unfortunately, armadillos are most commonly spotted along roadsides after being hit by motor vehicles.”

   And then there are fire ants! Nobody wants fire ants. Once mostly confined to the subtropical areas of the South, these stinging little reddish brown monsters have discovered with increasing frequency that life can be good in Tennessee too. Their mounds are most often spotted in sunny, open areas, and the mounds can grow to be several feet tall. If you see a fire ant mound, watch your step. They don’t mess around!

   Unlike the other creatures above, cougars actually did live in Tennessee at one time many years ago, but were eventually crowded out of their habitats and hunted until they disappeared from the state in the early 1900s. However, TWRA has confirmed sightings of cougars in Tennessee during the past few years. A trailcam captured a picture of a cougar in Humphreys County back in 2016. Another trailcam picture of what appears to be a cougar was taken in September of 2016 in Wayne County between Waynesboro and the Perry County line. TWRA officials state that it is very likely that instead of multiple cougars, these sightings are of the same animal that is traveling across these Tennessee counties. TWRA says that in the unlikely chance you encounter a cougar, “Never run, but instead make yourself threatening by standing tall, waving your arms, throwing objects, and yelling.”

   However unnerving and aggravating these animals and insects may be, it doesn’t look like they will be leaving our state any time soon. Everyone should just be aware that they may encounter a creature that they are not used to seeing around here, and take any precautions necessary to avoid physical contact with them.