Tips to stay safe and respect Florida's largest reptile
ECB Publishing, Inc.
The warm climate, abundant wildlife and stunning waterfronts are just some of the reasons why Florida has lured millions of people to our coastal, beautiful state.
But the details that bring humans to Florida are the very same reasons why The Sunshine State is the perfect habitat for America's largest (natural) reptile – the alligator.
For centuries, humans and alligators have shared the land and waters of the southern United States, with the alligator's habitat receiving increasing encroachment as cities expand into rural areas, residents seek waterfront homes and tourists and residents alike participate in Florida's many water-related recreational opportunities.
Despite that, fatal attacks on humans are rare – with the Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) reporting that only 401 people have been bitten by alligators between 1948-2017; only 24 of those attacks ended with human fatalities.
Nevertheless, the alligator is Florida's largest reptile predator, aside from the invasion Burmese Pythons that have been introduced to the Florida Everglades, and proper caution is advised.
Beginning in April and ending in June, alligators begin the process of courtship and mating.
During those months, alligators will become more aggressive and territorial; in June of 2018, a 12-and-a-half foot alligator attacked and killed a Florida woman after she got to close to the gator's pond.
In April, alligators will still be primarily in the courtship stage of mating, as the large reptiles will be attempting to find suitable mate.
In May or June, the mating season will officially begin and in late June or early July, female alligators will create a nest for their 32-48 eggs.
Nests are easily identified as mounds of soil, vegetation or other nearby debris; these nests will be fiercely protected by the mother gator.
Despite these spring and summer months being designated as the alligator mating season, there's no reasons why Floridians and visitors have to hold off a refreshing dip in the lake or fishing trip to the river.
The FWC advises several safe water practices to help humans live safely alongside the native reptiles that are known as a fundamental part of Florida's vast wetlands:
• Never feed alligators. Not only is feeding alligators illegal, it is also dangerous and causes alligators to overcome their natural wariness of people. When frequently fed by humans, alligators learn to associate humans with food and begin to draw nearer to human-occupied areas. This can lead to dangerous attacks or the gator having to be removed or killed.
• Observe from a distance. The majestic reptiles are a sight to behold. From their prehistoric features to their aquatic nature, alligators are remarkable creatures. However, any admiration or photographing of an alligator should be done at a distance that is safe for the reptile as well as for any humans. Give Florida's alligators the respect and distance that they deserve.
• Properly dispose of fish scraps. If you decide to take a fishing trip in Florida waters and then clean your fish near the water, be sure to properly dispose of your fish scraps in garbage cans at boat ramps and fish camps. Throwing the scraps in the water or along the water's edge will attract alligators to come nearer these areas and could result in unintentional feedings.
• Swim safely. Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas or in waters that are known for being inhabited by big gators. Further, alligators are more active at night, so the FWC strongly recommends against taking a dusky dip in the evening.
• Watch your pets. Cats and dogs are near the size of alligators natural prey. Anytime you and your pet are near bodies of water, pay attention. It is best to keep your pet away from the water's edge, so no swimming for Fido.
• Leave alligators alone. Florida law prohibits the killing, harassing or possession of alligators. These living dinosaurs are amazing creatures, but interactions with humans can be dangerous for both parties; even handling small alligators can result in injury. If you encounter an alligator on your personal property and believe that the reptile poses a threat to people or pets, call the FWC Nuisance Alligator Hotline at (866) 392-4286. But please be aware that nuisance alligators are killed, not relocated. If the alligator poses no threat of harm, it's best to let the reptile live in peace.