The old time gator hunters and Swampers used to hunt alligator at night by torch or spotlight. The shiny crystals in the alligator’s eye, called the tapetum lucidem, cause them to shine bright red in the dark night. Once located, a quick shot from the hunter’s rifle aimed between the glowing eyes ends its life.

Alligator red-eye shine swimming in the dark Okefenokee Swamp at night. March 10, 2015 Stephen C Foster State Park; Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. ©

But sometimes the alligator isn’t killed. And what doesn’t kill you makes you wiser! From that point forward, the eye shine of these wise gators quickly blinks out as the hunters’ lanterns approach and the alligator submerges.

In his 1935 book, The Alligator’s Life History, E.A McIlhenny writes, “Old alligators are now very shy of man, and as they usually have large underground tunnels in which to hide, they sometimes cannot be gotten either by light or by pole, and an alligator who has been shot at once by the light of a bull’s-eye is never again approachable with a light. As soon as an alligator that has been shot at but not killed sees a headlight, it sinks under the water. These alligators are known as ‘blinkers,’ and are entirely shy of night hunters.”

​E.A. McIlhenny (1872 – 1949), of the McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce company, was a hunter, explorer and naturalist that established the Avery Island wildlife refuge on his family estate in Louisiana and wrote The Alligator’s Life History in 1935. While some of his statements are criticized by modern science, he was one of the most knowledgeable alligator experts in the country at the time. His work contains valuable information and entertaining anecdotes.

iNaturalist observation:


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