Advertisement
  1. Environment

Mating season means more aggressive alligators will be spotted across Florida

Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn, the FWC says, but can be seen out more during mating season. SCOTT KEELER | TAMPA BAY TIMES
Published Apr. 1

Along with the comfortable weather and April Fools' jokes, the first of April also marks the start of a more Florida-specific tradition: Alligator mating season.

Starting Monday and running until June, Florida's estimated 1.3 million alligators will be more active, more visible and more aggressive as they mate, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

While the chances of being bitten in Florida are only 1 in 3.2 million, attacks have been on the rise in recent years.

Inside Science, a science news publication, wrote in August that gator bites in Florida have increased "from an average of just one every three years between 1988 and 1999 to about seven per year between 2000 and 2016." Statistics on the FWC's website suggest similar numbers, saying there has been an average of six unprovoked alligator bites per year over the last 10.

The reptiles mainly choose their meals based on what they can find at a given time, which means they'll eat frogs, birds, turtles, fish, snakes, small mammals and even wild hogs.

Dogs and cats look like natural prey, so gators sometimes attack people's pets.

"Anything that's about the right size and the right opportunity is potential prey," said Marty Main, an expert in alligator behavior and program leader for natural resources at the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. "They can even go for adults if you find yourself in a compromising position."

Since 1988, there have been 18 fatal attacks on humans involving an alligator in Florida and two since 2016, according to the FWC.

The two most recent incidents occurred during mating season. Last June, a 47-year-old South Florida woman was attacked and killed by a gator while she walked her dogs near a lake in Davie. Two mating season's prior, a 2-year-old boy was dragged into the water by an alligator near Disney's upscale Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and killed, grabbing national headlines.

"Alligators have inhabited Florida's marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes for many centuries, and are found in all 67 counties," the FWC says on its site. "In recent years, Florida has experienced tremendous human population growth. Many residents seek waterfront homes and increasingly participate in water-related activities. This can result in more frequent alligator-human interactions and a greater potential for conflict."

Scientists say the reason alligators become more visible and aggressive in mating season is due to the warmer weather, which increases the reptile's metabolism and desire to seek out prey. It also means you'll potentially see them basking in the sun more often as they regulate their body temperature.

In order to keep pets and residents safe, the agency released the following tips:

• Never feed an alligator. It's illegal and causes alligators to overcome their natural wariness and learn to associate people with food.

• Keep your distance if you see one. Alligators may look lethargic but can move quickly.

• Swim only in designated swimming areas during daylight hours. Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn.

• Keep pets away from the water (at least 10 feet from the water's edge).

The FWC says it encourages anyone who believes a specific alligator poses a threat to people, pets or property to call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at (866) 392-4286. The organization said that it receives an average of 15,000 nuisance alligator complaints annually.

"FWC's response to alligator bite incidents is to remove the alligator involved," agency spokeswoman Karen Parker said in August. "Every effort is made to ensure the responsible alligator has been removed."

Contact Josh Fiallo at jfiallo@tampabay.com. Follow @ByJoshFiallo.

ALSO IN THIS SECTION

  1. Trash collects in JoeÕs Creek Watershed, Pinellas Park Ditch, on  Sept. 17, 2019 in Pinellas Park. The grasses and sediment acts as camouflages for an alligator to the right of the trash.  TRACEE STOCKWELL   |   TIMES  |  Tampa Bay Times
  2. Neighbors had objected to the Lago Verde mine in north-central Pasco and then the adjoining Seven Diamonds LLC mine for the past seven years. The Seven Diamonds mine is now adding 60 additional acres to increase in size by one-fifth.
    The Seven Diamonds LLC mine is adding 60 acres, increasing in size by one-fifth.
  3. An man wades through flooded streets with bags of groceries in the Shore Acres neighborhood of St. Petersburg during Tropical Storm Colin in 2016. LOREN ELLIOTT  |  Loren Elliott / Tampa Bay Times
    The city plans to adjust its stormwater billing so homeowners with the most impervious surface area pay the most.
  4. A tegu lizard belonging to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is displayed during a press conference. Tampa Bay Times (2014)
    The invasive lizards, which can reach five feet in length, are well established in east Hillsborough.
  5. Rendering of the new Shore Acres Recreation Center that will replace the current structure at 4230 Shore Acres Blvd. NE, St. Petersburg Wannemacher Jensen Architects
    The long-desired project is praised, but some neighbors worry about its proposed height and a new entrance and exit on busy 40th Avenue NE
  6. An administrative judge said a Pasco County ordinance allowing solar farms in agricultural districts did not violate the county's comprehensive land-use plan. Times
    An ordinance did not violate the county’s land-use plan that is supposed to protect rural Northeast Pasco, a judge said.
  7. Diver Everton Simpson untangles lines of staghorn coral at a coral nursery inside the White River Fish Sanctuary on Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, like socks hung on a laundry line. Divers tend to this underwater nursery as gardeners mind a flower bed, slowly and painstakingly plucking off snails and fireworms that feast on immature coral. DAVID J. PHILLIP  |  AP
    On the ocean floor, small coral fragments dangle from suspended ropes, as socks hung on a laundry line.
  8. In his basement office Harry Lee, a retired Jacksonville doctor, who began collecting shells when he was 6 still spends time classifying shells. He's  79 now, and until recently he had what was considered the largest personal shell collection in the world, including quite a few shells that were unknown to science before he discovered them. But he's now given about a third of his collection to the Florida Museum of Natural History, where he also does volunteer work.
(Dede Smith/ Special) Dede Smith for the Times
    Harry Lee has spent seven decades traveling the world collecting shells — and even found one unknown to science in his own back yard
  9.  Designed by Tara McCarty
    Clearwater to host sustainability conference
  10. Fisherman Peyton Vaughan, 58, St. Petersburg, left, throws his cast net for bait, off of the north rest area of the Sunshine Skyway Bridge as the Precious Seas Cargo Ship, background, heads toward Tampa in Tampa Bay from the Gulf. A new study has found about 4 billion pieces of microplastics polluting the bay, which can affect the health of marine life in the bay.
    Now scientists will determine the impact on the animals that live in Florida’s largest estuary.
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement