Alligators are like modern dinosaurs, it’s no wonder we humans find them so intimidating, well most of us anyway. The biggest ancient alligator known was named Deinosuchus, and at 40 feet long its food source was literally other dinosaurs. Prehistoric dinosaurs aside, modern ones are nothing to sneeze at - a single bite from a gator provides 3,000 pounds of force.
While many people think about Florida in terms of the land of Disney, oranges, and the place where senior citizens retire so they never have to deal with shovelling snow again, it’s also home to the mighty alligator. Florida is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles exist together in the wild. It’s been estimated that there are 1.25 million alligators currently living in the state of Florida - that’s a lot of bite power! While serious injuries at the jaws of a gator are relatively rare in Florida, it doesn’t mean they don’t happen. Gators prefer wet marshy areas, which Florida is chock full of, but have also been known to wander – gators will go anywhere there is standing water so beware.
Here are 25 pictures of Florida’s biggest, toughest, and strangest gators that may have you reconsidering your next trip to the Magic Kingdom!
24 Gators Par For The Golf Course
When you’re golfing in Florida and hit a water hazard it might be best to just take the penalty and consider your ball gone. It’s not uncommon for golfers to run into gators like this one, who is 15 feet long, out for a walk across the fairway like it’s no big deal. Maybe he’s looking for a snack.
What’s surprising to us is that no one’s fight or flight (specifically flight) instinct kicked in, and instead they stuck around to film the giant beast instead of running to safety.
23 An Evening Dip In Your Pool
When it’s summer all year round, it’s worth getting a pool in your backyard to enjoy, but it’s probably best to look before you leap off that diving board just in case there is an unexpected visitor. Recently a homeowner living in Sarasota Florida discovered an 11-foot alligator taking an evening dip in his pool.
The gator was captured and removed, but no one knows exactly where the gator came from and why he decided a pool party was the perfect way to cap off his evening.
22 Mega Gator At Park
When you visit a wildlife sanctuary, it’s always exciting to see nature up close and personal. These tourists got more than they bargained for when they came across a gigantic alligator who has the nickname ‘humpback’ thanks to his arched back. This big boy is well above the average size of Florida gators (which are usually around 11 feet in length). This animal was just doing his thing and crossing the trail, thankfully the hikers knew to keep their distance.
Could you keep calm and quiet if you ran into this Godzilla like gator? Given his size, people speculate that he’s about 40 years old.
21 Red Eye Night Vision
If you see those red eyes, you’re best to back away slowly. Alligators are most active from dusk until dawn, so a midnight swim in Florida is probably best in a well-lit and gated pool. Gators are most active when the weather is warm, when they bask in the sun, which is the best time to view them (but safely and from a distance).
People need to be reminded of this regularly, unfortunately, but it is illegal to feed an alligator, so just don’t since it poses a danger to everyone.
20 More Than Ninja Turtles In The Sewer
There are rumors, which have been proven untrue, that pet gators brought back from Florida to New York City have resulted in a colony of gators living deep in the sewer system of the Big Apple, but that’s mostly an urban legend – in New York anyway.
In 2016, after complaints of a bad smell, investigators pulled out an 11-foot alligator from a sewage pipe in Florida. So, if they’re finding them there, odds are that there are some thriving in the sewers of Florida.
19 Scared In The Swamp
While fatal attacks are rare in Florida, sometimes when people get too close it can lead to a visit to the hospital. In an average year in Florida, around three or four people will find themselves in the ER thanks to a gator. Florida has a very active "Nuisance Alligator Program" which routinely gets rid of around 7,000 gators a year – using the criteria of them being aggressive or large enough to hurt someone, or just live too close to populated areas.
A common Florida warning is, “At dusk, if it moves, it’s food,” to tell people not to splash by the waterside at dusk and beyond unless you want to be mistaken for gator grub.
18 River Otter Vs. Gator
In 2011 Geoff Walsh, a visitor to Florida's Lake Woodruff National Wildlife Refuge posted footage that you wouldn’t expect – a river otter attacking and beating a gator. Reptile expert Terry Phillip said, "Man, that's a bold and hungry otter! Very cool." And added, that “Otters are voracious predators, close to being apex [top predator] in most places where they live. So anywhere they overlap with gators this would be a pretty common occurrence. Still, this is impressive: That's not a small alligator, probably three or four years old and five feet [1.5 meters] long. If that's a male otter it might be 30 pounds. That's a very bold animal!”
17 Just An Average Walk
Have a pet in Florida? It’s smart to keep them on a leash and to avoid walking along shorelines, particularly at dusk or dawn if you want to avoid them becoming a tasty morsel for a gator.
Gator Bill is an expert on alligators and warns people not to try and save their dog if a gator grabs them, as it’s just not worth it. “I got a dog, and he’s the best dog I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot of dogs, but if Clay gets in trouble with a gator, it’s going to break my heart, but I’m not going to do anything stupid. I have people who love me, too. I can get another dog.”
16 Not Just Mickey In Orlando
Even though Disney is one of the most magical places around, it doesn’t mean that the gators know to stay away from the park and the resort near it. While attacks are rare, they happen.
In 1986, an eight-year-old boy was attacked at Walt Disney World but managed to escape; more recently a two-year-old boy, unfortunately, was attacked by a gator at an artificial lake on the resort. Anyone who is looking to go swimming at Disney or in Florida is best to do so in a pool or at least check the shoreline thoroughly for gators before beginning their doggy paddle.
15 Gators On Campus
According to USGS, “an estimated 11.4 million acres of wetlands occupied 29 percent of the area of the state. Wetlands represent a greater percentage of the land surface in Florida than in any other state in the conterminous United States. Statewide, 90 percent of the total wetland area is freshwater wetlands and 10 percent is coastal wetlands.” This means that there is a lot of space for gators to roam, and they don’t care where people put their schools.
Here you see students watch from a comfortable distance as a professional wrangles a 9-foot alligator who was found wandering around the Geneva Academy Campus in Lakeland, Florida.
14 The Mall Walking Gator
One place you don’t expect to run into wildlife is at the mall, but it turns out just about anything can happen in Florida. An employee of an antique store was giving a tour of renovations to two customers when she saw an unsettling reflection through a window.
Nichols-Geahardt said of spotting the gator, "I am a native Floridian and am not spooked by them, but I do know not to startle them and to get out of their way.” Knowing what to do she had the customers go to their car and shut herself in the store for safety. Alligators had been spotted at this strip mall before, trying to get to a nearby retention pond, but those ones used the parking lot, and not the actual mall.
13 Will Break For Gators
If you want to see a gator from the safety of your car consider a drive on what people call ‘the real alligator alley’ located on Loop Road, on the Big Cypress National Preserve, in Ochopee, Florida.
It’s suggested that you go in the winter, since that’s the dry season, and it’s not too hot, because otherwise all the gators will be cooling themselves off in the water and you won’t see them. In the winter they’re more prone to soak up the sunshine, so you’ll get a great view as you drive on by.
12 Running Zig Zag Won't Save You
There are a lot of common myths about gators. One is that you can run away from a gator easily using a zig-zag pattern, but we’re sorry to tell you, that’s just not true. Other myths include the most dangerous time of year to run into a gator.
Gator Bill says, “I’ve read lately a lot of skewed information that alligator breeding is in summer. It’s not, it’s spring, when they are waking up from their inactivity period. That’s when male testosterone is really pumping.”
11 Bike Lane Or Gator Lane
In many videos that were posted by 'nature enthusiasts', it looks as if they got up close and personal with a gator, but generally assure people that the close view is thanks to a zoom lens on their camera.
One video showed a gigantic male gator, who goes by the name of Snaggletooth, taking a walk down a paved path. The overheated gator is allegedly a tired dad to 32 babies in a pond nearby and didn’t get far before laying down for a rest, so he’s probably not in a hunting mood, but should he change his mind it’s probably best to be far, far away.
10 Threat Level Danger
A lot of people think that if they run into a gator it’s best to climb a tree or fence nearby, but gators being poor climbers is just a myth.
Gator Bill says, “They are not geckos, but they are a type of big lizard, but most of their climbing is done with the assistance of the tail. The tail is half the alligator’s length and 35 percent of its body mass.
They generally try to go under fences, but in a mad scramble, when trying to get over something, they can get over a fence or wall.”
9 Gator Vs Gator
One of the biggest predators, beyond man, to gators, is other gators. A staggering number of baby gators won’t survive, simply because they’ll be eaten by other gators.
Recently at Circle B Bar Reserve in Lakeland, Florida tourists got the lunch show when they saw a young pup of a gator being consumed in whole by a much bigger gator. Tourist Andrew Lilyquist who shot some footage of this said, "My heart was racing. I just saw that big head and I said ok this is going to be great." Florida Fish and Wildlife officer Gary More says gator fights, especially during mating season, are common.
8 Man Vs Gator At Retirement Home
After an 85-year-old man was bitten by a gator on the foot, a retirement community was a buzz. Thankfully he was okay after some medical treatment, but trappers were sent in to pull the nine-foot nine-inch gator out of the pond as a precaution. A neighbour, April Gallant said,
"It was scary. I always thought they were afraid of us.” The retirement community was reminded of common safety procedures to avoid encountering gators, and avoid feeding wildlife at the pond, because it attracts other animals, you know, like gators.
7 Gator Chases Teen Up Tree
While at Alexander Springs Creek in the Ocala National Forest, a teen had the scare of a lifetime when a deadly gator chased her up a tree branch and circled below her, waiting for her to fall. The teen was floating on her raft when the gator swam up and began hissing at her, later chasing her up a tree.
Sgt. Mark Farner said, “There was a low hanging tree, she was able to climb up into the tree and get out of the water and stay high enough to where the gator couldn't get her.” Since they were in a remote area, it was 30 minutes before help arrived to get the young girl out of the tree.
6 Don't Say We Didn't Warn You
Smiley is a mother gator who Florida residents and tourists alike visit at the Briggs Nature Center. Volunteer Bob Schulteis sees the alligator family every time he’s there and says of the mama named Smiley, who had seven babies, “This year she decided to keep her brood under the boardwalk,” he described.
“It is a good choice because there is marsh grass there. It would be difficult for a male to get under the boardwalk and that is a typical enemy the babies would have. The male is known for eating the young.”
5 When It's Mating Season
Believe it or not, alligators are social creatures and can generally be found in large groups. A large group of gators is referred to as a congregation. Gators prefer to hunt in the water, as that’s where they’re most agile. Male alligators are most aggressive and testosterone driven in spring, with mating season taking place in June. It is the temperature of the eggs that will determine if the gators are male or female. When the eggs are kept at a temperature over 91.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they are male, below 82.4 degrees female, and a temperature of 87.8 degrees will result in half male and half female offspring.
4 How They Survive The Cold
When it gets cold in Florida, it really impacts the gators, and should the water ever freeze, gators are able to adapt temporarily by allowing their noses to freeze into the ice. Gators can survive in water as cold as 4 degrees Celsius by poking their snouts out of the ice while their bodies remain in a semi-hibernation mode to conserve energy and keep them warm.
While it rarely gets this cold in Florida, the animals are capable of adapting. The coldest temperature ever recorded in Florida was minus two degrees in 1899, so, for the most part, the gators are safe.
3 Extra Park Security Needed
In bad weather, gators require extra security, when storms come in. Gatorland is home to more than 2,000 live gators and reptiles and need to be secured when storms and hurricanes are brewing. CEO Mark McHugh says, “It ain’t our first rodeo. None of our animals are going anywhere … so if you see an alligator floating down the street outside your house, it ain’t ours — call the Florida Fish and Wildlife Department.”
McHugh says these creatures have been fighting hurricanes for around 65 million years, but just the same safety is key for Gatorland to make sure no one gets out.
2 Stalking Their Prey
One of the ways the gators can fool their prey is by floating camouflaged to appear like logs. Although most of us humans fear gators, they aren’t really interested in attacking us, that is unless they feel threatened or provoked. When they are young, alligators will eat fish, insects, snails, and worms. As they get bigger, they take on progressively larger food like big fish, turtles, muskrats, birds, deer, and other reptiles and mammals.
Alligators and crocodiles are both infamous for capturing their prey by doing something known as the ‘death roll’ where they grab their target, drown it and spin it wildly.
1 Strange Facts
Gators have anywhere from 74 to 80 teeth in their jaw at any time and will replace and regenerate some 2,000 teeth in their lifetime. Alligators continue to grow their entire life, so the bigger the gator, the older he is, with the largest being older male gators. They are big, but smart and have been seen using lures to hunt birds, by putting sticks on their heads to emulate a nest. While gators mostly eat meat, they have been known to nosh on wild grapes and citrus fruits as well, so watch your orange tree!
Sources: New York Post, CNN, National Geographic, Epic Times, Florida Today