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 itself.
• 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.
A mother alligator with her babies.
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 (perhaps you’ve heard of the “death roll”), let alone a finger, and resulting lacerations alone can keep a surgeon busy for hours in an operating room.
An alligator basks with jaws agape.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.
Did You Know? Most human attack victims are male – a whopping 84%.