Warming temperatures and mating season make for ideal conditions that re-energize Florida’s estimated 1.3 million alligators, and experts are warning locals as well as tourists to stay out of the way.
The risk of an increase in human-alligator interactions can also be attributed to the state’s population and tourism growth, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
Authorities explained that mating season generally begins with a courtship in April followed by breeding in May and June, a time when temperatures begin to rise. Alligators tend to be the most active when daily temperatures reach 82 to 92 degrees Fahrenheit, typically late in their mating season.
Alligators are ectothermic; they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature, causing it to fluctuate according to its surroundings. They control their body temperature by basking in the sun, or moving to areas with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures.
Mating season and warming temperatures can lead to more unwanted appearances and interactions with humans, according to Susan Smith, a spokesperson for the FWC.
Last year the commission logged 455 nuisance alligators calls in Pinellas County, which lead to the harvest or relocation of 261 reptiles.
In the state, 12 people were reported bitten by an alligator last year. The last reported death was in 2007 when a 36 year old man was seized and drowned by an alligator as he was swimming across a pond at the Miccosukee Indian Reservation in West Miami. A 9’4” alligator was believed to be responsible for the attack.
To keep alligators out of your yard, officials recommend homeowners install a fence that is at least four and a half feet tall. While alligators are good climbers, anything lower would not be adequate protection.
If you do have a close run-in with an alligator that charges at you, run away fast and straight, not zig-zag. According to FWC authorities, there is no basis to the myth that you should run in a zig-zag pattern to avoid a charging alligator.
If you do find yourself in the extremely unlikely position of avoiding a lunging alligator, you should run in a straight line away from the alligator and its habitat, which is where the alligator will most likely retreat to and never approach an alligator that is on land.
To prevent unpleasant encounters, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offer these facts and safety tips:
• Leave alligators alone. Alligators are shy animals that usually avoid human contact.
• Pay attention. Keep an eye on your surroundings near fresh or brackish waters. Avoid vegetation-filled areas of rivers, lakes, and other bodies of water.
• Do not feed alligators. Feeding alligators is illegal. Alligators that are fed will come to associate humans with food and will lose their natural fear.
• Throw fish scraps into trash cans. Do not discard fish scraps in the water at fish camps or boat ramps—you will unintentionally feed alligators.
• Follow directions on signs. Do not swim outside of posted swimming areas.
• Swim during daylight hours only. Alligators are most active at night.
• Stay with children. Never allow small children to play unattended near water.
• Keep an eye on your pets. Dogs are in more danger from alligators than humans, because they resemble the reptiles’ natural prey. Do not let your dog swim in waters where you know alligators live.
Remember the odds. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than attacked by an alligator in Florida.
State law makes it illegal to kill or harass alligators. Alligators may be harvested under special licenses and permits issued by the conservation commission.
If you have a nuisance alligator in your area, call 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286).