Humans aren’t the only ones out enjoying the warmer spring weather.
With the rise in temperatures, officials are warning of increased activity from the cold-blooded American alligator — and they’re giving tips for how to avoid conflicts with the large reptile.
Florida’s alligator population is healthy and stable, with an estimated statewide population of 1.3 million, and they inhabit all of the state’s 67 counties, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
“They prefer freshwater lakes and slow-moving rivers and their associated wetlands,” Tammy Sapp, a spokeswoman for the commission, wrote in an email. “But they also can be found in brackish-water habitats. Anywhere there is standing water, an alligator might be found.”
Despite their seemingly large numbers, alligator attacks are rare, with only seven major bites recorded in the year prior to September 2016.
Nevertheless, people should use caution as the animals’ activity increases amid warm temperatures, officials say.
People should swim in designated areas only during daylight hours, keep pets on leashes, and maintain a distance if an alligator is spotted on land or in water, according to a news release put out by the commission on Wednesday.
People with concerns regarding alligators should call the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program hotline, the release says. The program has been utilized at least once recently in Alachua County: to remove three of the reptiles from Lochloosa Lake.
“[The commission’s] hotline uses contracted nuisance-alligator trappers throughout the state to remove alligators 4 feet in length or greater that are believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property,” Sapp wrote.
But alligators are typically weary of humans and will stay away, said Allan Woodward, an alligator research biologist for the commission. Most of the bites that do occur tend to be accidental.
“People sometimes bump into alligators, or alligators aren’t sure,” Woodward said. “Sometimes, they will sample what we are.”
Alligators are naturally afraid of humans, but they may lose that fear when people feed them because they then associate people with food, according to the commission. It is illegal to feed alligators in Florida.
Jim Nesci, founder of Cold Blooded Creature, a reptile education program, said Floridians should take the time to learn more about “these incredible animals.”
“It’s real simple,” said Nesci, who has a 10-foot alligator named Bubba. “If you leave them alone, they aren’t going to bother you.”