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Q&A: How many alligators and alligator attacks are there in the United States?

Florida has about 1.3M alligators

How many alligators are there in the United States, where do they live and how often are people attacked by them?

Millions of American alligators live in 10 southeastern states: Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Arkansas and Oklahoma.

Any numbers you see are strictly estimates. Louisiana is thought to have the most, perhaps as many as 2 million. Florida is next with about 1.3 million, and they can be found in all 67 counties. The estimates are usually made by determining the amount of suitable habitat and applying an established average density to that habitat.

Some other basic facts:

• Alligators mature in 8 to 13 years and live an average of about 70 years. But experts say some may live as long as 100 years.

• Most adult males range from 10 to 14 feet and weigh about 500 pounds. Females are generally 8 to 10 feet and 200 or more pounds.

• They have 74 to 80 teeth.

• Alligators generally shy away from humans, but can get very defensive and aggressive when they feel threatened.

• Alligators move quickly through water and can lunge short distances very quickly, but are generally slow-moving on land.

• Alligators will eat just about anything, but their primary diet includes turtles, fish, birds, mammals and amphibians.

• Alligators used to be endangered species but are no longer, and Florida and other states now have regulated hunting.

• The word alligator is a derivation from the Spanish word el lagarto, which means "the lizard." Gators and crocodiles are thought to be the last of the living reptiles that were closely related to dinosaurs.

The Times' Jeff Klinkenberg once wrote about the beasts: "Alligators give Florida its wild edge. They are dinosaurs living in an otherwise modern, civilized state. You can attend the symphony tonight and be devoured while taking a swim tomorrow."

Florida started keeping track of attacks in the late 1940s. There are about a dozen attacks a year, and about 20 of them in the past 40 years have been fatal.

There are generally accepted rules of conduct toward alligators that benefit humans, including:

• Do not feed them.

• Do not swim where they are, especially at night when they normally feed.

• Do assume there are alligators in every area of freshwater.

• Do not approach a nest of hatchlings.

If you are attacked, fight back. Use anything available as a weapon. If you have none, punch or kick the gator in the snout or gouge at its eyes.

Here's a Florida website filled with information: myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/managed/alligator.

And if you want to hear the sounds of an alligator, go to www.fws.gov/video/sound.htm.

Q&A: How many alligators and alligator attacks are there in the United States? 08/14/11 [Last modified: Sunday, August 14, 2011 4:30am]
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