It’s that time of year and Florida residents and visitors looking to catch a glimpse of the largest reptile in North America will find abundant viewing opportunities. Increases in alligator sightings are common at this time of year, during courtship and mating season. But keep a safe distance and if you're looking to get a little closer, it's best to seek out an expert tour guide.
“The American alligator is a conservation success story. Florida has a healthy and stable alligator population, which is estimated at 1.3 million alligators of every size. They are an important part of Florida’s wetlands, but should be regarded with caution and respect” according to Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).
When the air and water temperatures start to warm so do the body temps of these ectothermic animals. Alligators control their body temperature by basking in the sun so now is the time to see them in area wetlands, ponds and brackish environments.
As mating season began in April and will last through May, males are on the move in search of a suitable female. Females will build nests and deposit an average of 32 to 46 eggs in late June or early July. Eggs hatch from mid-August through early September.
Crazy stories pop up from all over the state about people observing gators everywhere from backyard swimming pools and front porches to underneath cars and wandering shopping center parking lots. While the photo op might be tempting, it's best to keep your distance in such a situation. Alligators outside of their natural habitats can be unpredictable and should be reported to 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286) which is FWC’s nuisance alligator hotline.
Follow the Rules Never feed alligators – it’s dangerous and illegal. Remember that in many cases, a fed gator is a dead gator. Feeding this normally standoffish animal conditions them to associate people with food. The last thing you want is an accidental close encounter with a gator that’s less afraid of you than you are of it. This puts you at risk of injury and almost always results in the animal having to be removed and often killed in the process. Pets should be kept on a leash and guarded carefully around any body of fresh or brackish water. Alligators are masters of camouflage even in a few inches from the shoreline. Although their diet typically consists of aquatic animals such as turtles and fish or small mammals like rodents or rabbits, large adults both male and female are highly territorial. Most attacks involving unintended prey such as dogs or people are typically the result of this instinct.
Don't swim at night and swim only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours. Alligator bites are most likely to occur in or around water. Bites on humans have occurred in a variety of water bodies, many of which are small and not regularly used by alligators. Although alligators can move quickly on land, they are not well adapted for capturing prey out of the water.
The American Alligator was hunted nearly to extinction before they were placed on the endangered list in the mid to late 1960’s. Since then the population has flourished and Florida’s most beloved beast continues to fascinate us.