odds of being attacked by an alligator
one in 24 million.
Your odds of winning Florida's Lotto Jackpot
one million better.*
So, if you learn more about alligators and apply it well, you
improve your safety factor (and better your statistical odds at winning millions).
This isn't a promotion for the Florida lottery,
but an effort to shed the lights of accurate knowledge and perspective on the subject of
the human-alligator relationship. Folks who live in alligator territory are
rightly concerned about their safety in the presence of these powerful
(Image above: © istockphoto/Kydroon)
Consider this: A resident of, or visitor to,
United States is more likely to die (let alone be injured) as the result
of an automobile or airplane crash, lightning strike, drowning,
fireworks discharge, smoke inhalation, fire, tornado impact, electrocution,
dog attack, legal execution or even the impact of an asteroid, than from
an alligator attack.
(Image at left: © istockphoto/stockhlm)
So, chances are you'll never need to use the
information on this page, but knowing it may give you some peace of mind and aid you in
enjoying our shared environment safely. This information also offers a
glimpse of the alligator's fascinating physiology and behavior that have
enabled it to outlive the dinosaurs. Our ultimate goal should be to
avoid conflict, but this can only be done if the self-aware, more intelligent species takes the initiative.
It's not difficult. Here are twelve tips to aid you
in doing so.**
* Data sources:
Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission:
** See the important legal disclaimer at the
bottom of this page.
safety tips by the
also generally apply to the American Crocodile, which shares habitat with the
alligator in South Florida. Learn more about this cousin if the
aware on, in or near water.
Never let children or pets
near the water
Alligators are opportunistic hunters. They prefer to
wait for prey to get close, and lunge to seize it. Adults and children
alike should be very aware of their surroundings near
the water's edge; that embankment area of a water body, where land meets
liquid, is often covered in vegetation in which the 'gator can hide,
making it the reptile's favorite lurking place. And remember: the smaller the potential 'prey,' such as child or a pet,
the more attractive to the alligator simply because it is easier to take.
Avoid swimming in a water body
known to be
inhabited by alligators.
You already know this -- it doesn't take a
scientist to figure this one out. Many municipalities or residential
developments post warning signs, but the absence of such a sign doesn't
mean there are no alligators. Bear in mind that most water bodies in
alligator states contain them.
In the water, you look much smaller to an
alligator, even if you happen to be 6 ft 4 in/1.9 m tall while
walking upright on land. The 'gator may not think of taking a
tall man as a meal while that human is standing on the water's
edge, but being in the water puts the man in the alligator's
watery hunting field, where the he appears smaller on a liquid plane, and where the
reptile has the advantage. Statistics show that the average age of an
attack victim is 34 years.
(Image: © Israel Dupont)
Usually, the safest swimming areas are in frequented,
supervised parks, where lots of cars parking and humans talking, shouting and splashing
tend to ward off the 'gators. Even if you swim in areas that are known
to be generally 'gator-free, never swim alone. Should an attack occur
and you have a buddy to help you, your chance of escaping is much
greater. Swim only within posted swimming areas. Venture beyond
that and you enter deeper into the realm of the alligator, and away from
potential safety or help.
(Image: © istockphoto/LUGO)
Also, never enter water at night. Alligators are most
active, especially for seeking prey, from dusk until dawn. And the fact
that you can't see well in the dark makes for a much more dangerous
Finally, avoid consuming alcohol
when enjoying the water, even in daytime. Evidence in some Florida
alligator attack incidents, as well as some of those involving the
crocodiles in Australia, shows that the victims were under the influence
of alcohol, or worse, crack cocaine. You need
your wits about you when swimming to avoid drowning, let alone being
wary of alligators.
So, don't drink and dive.
(Image: © Israel Dupont)
Did You Know?
90% of attacks occur on persons wading
or swimming at water's edge.
Never approach an alligator, including a baby or even a nest.
The alligator is naturally wary of humans, and will
flee quickly if you get too close to it, or it may utter a very audible
and compelling warning hiss. In some cases, however, alligators may
charge or attack. Here are some examples of such cases:
• An alligator that is accustomed to being
fed by humans may not be so shy (see above).
• An alligator that is surprised and alarmed
by your approach may attack, thinking that it is being attacked
• A mother alligator caring for her nest or
for live babies, as seen in the image below. If you see alligator babies, or if you
encounter a nest (a usually a mound of vegetation mixed with mud), enjoy
the experience from a safe distance...momma 'gator is sure to be close
by. If you get close, the mother may sound a very audible and
intimidating warning hiss. Such a nest may be difficult to identify for
a non-expert, but it is likely the mother will issue you a warning.
Gator mothers are well-known to be practically
fearless when defending their offspring, whether the little ones have
hatched or not. A mother alligator was observed leaping, jaws agape, to
attack a helicopter as it approached the nest area to land! (The
helicopter was carrying biologists surveying alligator nests.)
Also be careful near heavy vegetation in or near the
water's edge. This is where an alligator likes to enjoy privacy and
peace during the daylight hours. If you trudge through there and
surprise it, the outcome may not be positive.
Generally, a good minimum land distance to keep
between you and an alligator or nest is 15 feet/ 4.6 meters.
Some adventurous individuals believe that they can grapple with
smaller gators without serious injury; they are quite mistaken.
A smaller alligator, even 5 ft/1.5 m long, may remove a limb
(ever heard of the "death roll?"), let alone a finger, and
resulting lacerations alone can keep a surgeon busy for a while.
The photograph to the above shows the result of the
bite of a small alligator, about 3 ft/ 1m in length. (Image: © Jarrod Forthman)
An alligator will often lay on land with jaws agape,
and seldom is this a sign of imminent attack, especially if it is far
from you. In doing this, it is believed, the reptile is merely trying to
regulate its body temperature by
letting heat escape its body, sort of like the panting of a dog.
Generally, this is not a behavior to be wary of.
(Image: © istockphoto/PaulMerritt)
Did You Know? Most human attack
victims are male - a whopping 84%.
Be extra-aware during the warmer seasons.
Your chance of encountering an alligator is greatest
during the animal's courtship and
season in the warmest months,
from March through
September. This is when male 'gators
become most dominant and aggressive as they try to intimidate rival
males and attract females by their show of power. Some males end up
having to travel to find a mate.
July through September are when mother 'gators are guarding nests.
This Miami canal serves as
an alligator "highway", conveying the big reptiles literally
into humans' backyards. The soft grass of a residential yard is
an irrestible basking site.
(Image above: ©
The warmer months
are a very popular time in the southeastern USA for outdoor
activities, and alligators being solar-powered, so-to-speak, are
active, hunting travleing, couritng and mating. The warmth from the sun fires up their
metabolism, giving them renewed energy; and renewed energy means
great potential for conflict.
Did You Know?
75% of attacks occur from May-September.
Never feed or entice an alligator.
Why hunt hard for food all night when you can
simply wait for a human to toss it right to your mouth? That's what a
'gator thinks when he enjoys food service from curious humans. Hence,
each time that alligator sees a person --you guessed it-- it thinks it's feeding time. The
alligator may approach that person, sometimes hungrily charging to
accept his expected meal. It all adds up to a dangerous situation,
especially if that person is a child. The smaller the prey, the more
willing the 'gator is to pursue and take it. The excitement of the
alligator's presence tends to inspire mischief in its feeders, which may
lead to a harmful or deadly brush with an alligator.
Also note that most feeders of alligators
seem to offer food that's very unhealthy for the animal, like
marshmallows or hot dogs, food that may harm the alligator and
the animal and environmental dependents of it.
Feeding these crocodilians isn't just
dangerous, it's illegal in several states, including Florida. Evidence
strongly suggests that many victims of alligator attacks were hurt or
killed by alligators that were accustomed to being fed by humans. Don't
be a participant in the eventual injury or death of another for the sake
of the momentary thrill of feeding a wild alligator.
the image above, an alligator's presence dramatically
reinforces the signage at Lake Alice in Gainesville, Florida. (Image: © Israel Dupont)
This also includes
disposing of fish scraps
left over from fishing. Never leave the scraps on land or in water (Those
'gator snouts can smell the scraps on the shore or embankment). The
scraps should be deposited in a nearby trash can. If there isn't such a
can, you should take the scraps with you and dispose of them in a trash
container elsewhere. In Florida, for example, it is
leave scraps. Leaving scraps conditions the alligator's behavior just as
direct feeding does.
Be careful too, when feeding fish, turtles or ducks,
in case alligators are present. They will gladly eat fish, turtle
or duck food. It is best to avoid these practices in the wild.
If you witness
the feeding or enticing
of a wild alligator, report it to
Report such a person and/or the event to the
authorities immediately. (In some states it is not illegal to feed
alligators, although it should be.) The act of feeding, as mentioned
above, may be perilous to
the feeder and to anyone who ventures near that alligator afterward.
Authorities need to be aware of the situation so that action can be
taken to preserve public safety.
By reporting it you make an
important civic contribution - you not only bolster
public safety, but you assist in the protection
of the alligator species from the undeserved and rotten publicity it gets when
a human is
hurt by one.
If you live in the alligator's range state, you may
directory of state wildlife authorities for contact information.
Contact authorities if you suspect
alligator may pose danger.
Your state's wildlife or environmental agency is
authorized to investigate complaints from citizens regarding so-called
"nuisance" alligators. In the event that you believe, based on
observation, that an alligator poses a danger to you or others, it is
wise to call the authorities. (Of course, in the rare event that someone
is under attack, the best option is to call
911 Emergency for help, and to do what you can
to help the victim.)
Usually, an alligator under 4 ft/ 1.2 m in length
poses insignificant or no danger (in Florida, authorities generally do
not remove alligators under four feet in length). If, however, you observe an alligator
of any size behaving in such a way that convinces you that it
may come into actual conflict with humans, the authorities should be contacted.
Learning all you can about alligators from various
sources, including Living with Alligators, can serve you well
in estimating an alligator situation. The use of this knowledge will
help you to contribute to public safety and also to avoid unnecessary
fear in the event that an alligator may be in the vicinity, but not
posing a threat.
Florida's wildlife agents are kept extremely busy
fielding more than 21,000
complaints annually, so the more the public learns about alligators, the
less likely frivolous (though well-meaning) complaints will consume
authorities' valuable and limited resources - not to mention your own tax dollars.
By learning as much as you can, you're better able to assess the
animal's status in your community and distinguish between a real threat
and a false alarm.
Did you know? To report a
"nuisance" alligator, you may find contact information for
your state's wildlife authority
Create a barrier on your property, if
Many residents live on the bank of a canal, river or
stream, and are rightly concerned about the entrance of an alligator to
their property, especially if they have small children or pets. The most
effective measure (though not necessarily 'gator-proof) is installation of
a wall or fence. Another possible deterrent is dense vegetation.
construction or planting like these discourages the animal from entering
the area, where it may wish to bask or travel through. You should check your local laws and ordinances pertaining to
erecting such a barrier.
THE ALLIGATOR BARRIER
An alligator is quite capable of
climbing a barrier, but one can install an obstruction that
almost certainly would prevent an alligator from entering a
property. Ideally, such a structure should be at least 6 feet in height and
an additional minimum of 20 inches should reach under the
surface of the ground, since the alligator is an expert digger
and if eager enough may resort to digging.
A smooth concrete wall
is a good barrier. This describes a wall
that does not have large protrusions, such as deep stucco, which
would facilitate an alligator's grip.
A fence may be
an excellent deterrent. If a wooden fence, the
wood slats should be vertical, not horizontal, as
horizontal boards or slats may serve as a 'ladder rungs' for the
If a metal fence, it
should be made of chain-link or panel contruction, woven in
panels small enough to prevent an alligator slipping through.
The fence should have installed at the top a metal-woven
overhang (chain-link, panel, barbed wire etc.) of at least 20 inches in
a minimum angle of 45°. The angled portion of the barrier
prevents a climbing alligator from advancing over the fence. The
thickness/strength of the metal should ideally be 11.5 gauge or stronger;
this guage in chain-link form, or its equivalent in other form,
is the requirement of the State of Florida for permitted possessors of
larger crocodilians (note that the lower the gauge number, the stronger
the metal strand is). Furthermore, hatchling, yearling and small
juvenile alligators may be able to pass through smaller fence links
though larger, more dangerous alligators, will not.
Any such barrier should be properly
installed and maintained and care should be taken not to permit trees,
shrubbery or other vegetation to grow near or on the barrier
that might serve as a "ladder" for alligators to climb.
Watch an alligator easily scale a fence,
in the amatuer video below. Note the ineffectiveness of this
kind of barrier.
If charged by an
alligator, run away,
but NOT in
The alligator is not an ideal runner. Those short
legs obviously don't serve it like a horse's legs do, and the 'gator
can actually tire out in a relatively short time. When it
charges after a human or animal, it is either trying to scare it away or
seize it. It has a fast and furious burst of energy which serves it well for stealth hunting -- grabbing prey when it doesn't expect
it. Furthermore, the reptile is opportunistic, which means, quite simply, it doesn't like to work very hard to get its food if it
doesn't have to.
So, in the very rare event you are charged or chased by an
alligator, move in as straight a line as possible away from it
as fast as you reasonably can. In many cases, the vegetation features of
the wild will serve to protect you by slowing the alligator down, like
trees, bumps, bushes, etc. -- your comparatively long legs usually
make it easier for you to maneuver through the trees and brush than an
alligator's short legs do for it.
Most adult humans can outrun even a fast crocodilian,
which has been clocked at a maximum of about 10 mph/17 kilometers per
hour (kph), compared to
a human speed of 15-17 mph/24-27 kph. But this doesn't matter much;
alligator will often
give up the chase because it sees that the runner is moving away
too quickly, and realizes that too much effort will be required to
continue pursuit. The vertically aligned mammals with long legs
have the advantage over the tubular, horizontally-aligned,
You may have heard somewhere that the zigzag run (running in
a "z" pattern, side-to-side) is a good idea, but this is not only an
unnecessary maneuver but probably a very unwise one.
Unless you're an Olympic-level athlete, running
zigzag over natural topography increases your risk of tripping
and falling over rocks, plants, roots, and the like. And it
goes without saying that falling
while being pursued by an alligator is not good.
Furthermore, an alligator has limited
binocular vision, a relatively narrow functional 'blind spot'
appearing directly in front of it at close range, partly due to
its wide, long upper jaw. Hence, the 'gator's vision is most effective
in the 'sides' of its field of view. So, running zigzag not only slows your rate of
distance from your pursuer, it may
more clearly indicate to the animal exactly where you are; even this
point hardly matters since in many cases the 'gator may keep its eyes shut
while pursuing so as not to get them hit by twigs, grass stalks and
branches in its path.
Finally, an alligator bites very effectively in a
side-swiping motion, so if you are trying to run zigzag and are slowed down
by plants, rocks, or other obstacles, the backwards flying leg of a
running human is an optimal target for side-swiping, chomping jaws (the
operative word here is "side").
Simply put, when faced with an attack, move directly
away from the alligator as quickly as possible, navigating the terrain
as carefully as possible. The zigzag idea will likely not serve you well.
9. If attacked, fight back.
This is, of course, easier said than done in the fury
and shock of an attack, but one must do what is necessary to survive.
As mentioned above, the alligator doesn't like
much trouble when taking food - it prefers an easy meal. If it seizes prey, and the prey fights
back hard, the alligator may release it, depending on
factors such as it's own size relative to that of the victim, it's own
level of aggression, and its measure of hunger. Merely struggling to
break free may not be enough counter-aggression to stop a 'gator, and
may actually prompt a devastating "death roll" response, in which the
reptile furiously spins on its body's central axis to tear muscle and bone free
of the victim's body.
The image above captures the alligator's dramatic
rolling maneuver; this is not shown to scare, but to demonstrate
the reality of this animal's abilities. Remember,
of you ever having to deal with this situation is remote at
(Image: © istockphoto/ntripp)
These armored saurian are among the toughest beasts in the
animal kingdom, so an attack victim should channel his or her
nervous energy and will to survive and take the offensive by fighting hard.
Not struggling...fighting very, very, very hard.
Others on hand during such an event may be able to help by
fighting the reptile, too. This should include punching the snout, poking the
eyes, and even jabbing the ears, which are seen as small slits behind the
Remember: You're far more likely to be hurt
or killed in a car crash than to be attacked by a gator.
If bitten, seek medical attention
This may seem like a 'no-brainer,' but some who are
bitten by smaller crocodilians think that mere first-aid is enough to
treat the wound. An immediate concern following a bite is the effect of
bacteria, which a 'gator mouth is teeming with. These bacteria,
among them, can enter the bloodstream through the bite and cause an infection
so serious that it can result in the victim's death. (One study found 38
species of bacteria and 20 species of fungi in the alligator
The bacteria isn't the only issue-- there's
also the 'gator's infamous crushing power. The American
Alligator and its crocodile cousins have the greatest known bite forces on Earth (a large
alligator's jaw pressure can be at least five times
that of a large lion - nearly 3000 psi). The reptile's jaws can crush
muscle and bone, in addition to cutting and tearing.
11. Never take an alligator from the wild
accept one as a pet.
The taking of alligators from the wild, in any of the
animal's range states, is illegal and may be punishable
by a fine and a prison sentence. Besides the illegality and the danger involved in taking
them, alligators (and all crocodilians) make the worst pets.
They are far too dangerous, troublesome and expensive to care for. Don't
fall for a sales pitch from a pet shop merchant who tells you that they
don't grow large if you keep them in a small enclosure, and that you can
keep the animal tame.
If you happen to live in a state outside of the
alligator's range, and you know of a "pet" alligator, caiman or
crocodile that needs a home at a qualified facility, please visit
(Image: © Ronald Dupont Jr.)
Did You Know? Alligators
discovered in the wild in the colder northern U.S. states are
actually released or escaped "pets." If not rescued,
they die when temperatures drop in the frigid season.
Share your knowledge of alligators with
Sharing your knowledge of alligators and alligator
safety contributes to public safety, and promotes a greater
appreciation for the marvels of nature and to a better
understanding of our place in it and how our enjoyment of it truly
enhances our lives.
SUGGESTED ARTICLE CITATION:
Dupont, Israel. 2008. An Alligator Safety Guide.
LivingAmongAlligators.com. Israel Dupont. May 2008; Rev. August
2014 [Insert date accessed].
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liability in connection with this advice and/or its observance. Every situation with its myriad of
factors is unique and impossible to predict, even by an expert. The consideration of the information presented here
and from other reliable sources,
along with the exercise of good sense and judgment, can go a long way to
helping you stay safe.
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