Gators 101: How to stay safe
What to do if you encounter these ...
Gator bites and fatals
Since 1948, there have been 518 bites on humans, including 223 major bites that required medical care beyond first aid, 111 minor bites and 184 provoked bites, according to the state wildlife commission. In that time period, 22 people have died from alligator bites, and the vast majority of the deaths occurred when people were swimming in fresh water canals, lakes or rivers. (for full report, click on documents below)
Teen talks about gator attack
Tim Delano recalls fighting with the gator
NAPLES — With 1.3 million alligators in Florida, they’re pretty hard to avoid.
But keeping yourself safe isn’t difficult as long as you use common sense, said Lindsey Hord, biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s alligator management program.
To live safely with alligators, people should swim only in designated swimming areas, keep their pets away from the water’s edge, refrain from feeding alligators, maintain a safe distance and leave the animals alone, Hord said.
So far in 2010, there have been six alligator bites, including Tim Delano, who lost his hand in a Collier County canal last week. Last year there were 19 bites on humans in Florida, 11 of which were considered provoked bites, which means that the alligators were being handled, moved or inattentively harassed.
Since 1948, there have been 518 bites on humans, including 223 major bites that required medical care beyond first aid, 111 minor bites and 184 provoked bites, according to the state wildlife commission.
In that time period, 22 people have died from alligator bites, and the vast majority of the deaths occurred when people were swimming in fresh water canals, lakes or rivers.
Where you’re likely to find alligators depends on the gender, Hord said. Adult males tend to prefer open water areas, like canals and lakes, and females tend to like marshy areas, which are better for the survival of their young.
“The bigger alligators, the males, may be in the type of waters that people would be swimming in or recreating in — open water areas, canals or lakes,” Hord said.
Male alligators can grow up to 14 feet long and the record-sized animal weighed in at 1,000 pounds. Females are smaller, usually growing to 9 feet or so.
When you think about going swimming, the wildlife commission recommends swimming in designated swimming areas only, whether you’re swimming in fresh water or salt water, Hord said.
Alligator populations are much denser in fresh inland waters than salt waters, but it’s not impossible to find one in salt water, he said.
There’s also a chance that you’ll see a crocodile in salt water in South Florida, but there are only 1,500 to 2,000 non-hatchling crocodiles in the state, he added.
If you are going swimming, don’t do it between dusk and dawn, because that’s when alligators are most active, Hord said.
Female alligators are nesting now, but there’s no association between breeding, nesting and alligator bites, Hord said. The eggs will hatch at the end of August to the beginning of September, and it takes about 10 to 15 years for alligators to reach sexual maturity, or about 6 feet.
Alligators can live up to 40 or 50 years, but since they’re wild animals that’s rare, Hord said.
They’re the top predator in their environment, and they’re “opportunistic feeders,” which means they eat any animal that crosses their path, including other alligators.
If alligators are on land, they’re not hunting, but rather moving from one body of water to another, Hord said. They do, however, lunge out of the water to catch prey.
The Florida population used to be endangered, but for the last decade or so it has been stable and now there is an alligator hunting season. The state also traps alligators that are longer than 4 feet and are determined to be a danger to people, their pets or their property.
In 2009, the wildlife commission had more than 14,000 nuisance alligator complaints, issued nearly 11,000 permits and tags for trappers and removed 7,174 nuisance alligators.
Feeding alligators is never recommended, Hord said, though there hasn’t been a real association with alligator bites and feeding. But feeding habituates alligators to people, so as a result they’re more likely to be a nuisance.
“It’s very rare for an alligator to bite somebody and fatalities are even more rare,” Hord said. “Now that does not mean that people should go in and do foolish things. ... We get some people bit every year because they’re trying to catch a little alligator so they can show it to a friend of theirs.”