Understanding how to avoid alligator attacks is a necessity of hiking in the deep south. Hiking in alligator country can be a thrilling experience, but can also be dangerous! Gators are common in the south and generally found from the North Carolina coast to Texas. While alligator attacks on humans are rare, they do happen - most often because of a lack of common sense. Follow these simple steps for an enjoyable hike and avoid becoming gator bait.
The first step to avoiding becoming an alligator attack victim is understanding some basics about alligators (alligator mississippiensis).
- The largest alligator on record was nearly 16 long and weighed more than 1,000 lbs.
- An alligator lifespan in the wild is between 35 and 50 years.
- There are two types of alligators, the chinese alligator and american alligator, which is obviously the only one found in North America.
- Are alligators endangered? The IUCN Red List considers alligators a species of least of concern. They are listed as threatened on the U.S. Federal List.
- How many teeth do alligators have? Alligators have between 74 and 80 teeth, but when a tooth is worn down it is replaced. During its lifetime an alligator can have a total of 2 to 3 thousand different teeth.
- Additonal information and other alligator facts can be found in our field guides.
Where do alligators live?
Alligators live from the Virginia-North Carolina border down the the Atlantic coast, around Florida to Texas and as far north as southern Arkansas. Alligator habitat is generally characterized by calm freshwater marshes, swamps, rivers and lakes.
What do alligators eat?
Only humans, JUST KIDDING! Alligators are essentially carnivores. They generally hunt by night and eat small prey such as turtles, fish and small mammals whole. They will clamp down on large prey and drag it under water, drowning it.
A fed gator is a dead gator
A fed gator is a dead gator. Never feed an alligator! Sounds like common sense right? Well it’s not, each year gators have to be killed because they learned to associate humans with food. It’s more than just blatantly feeding them however; feeding wildlife which are alligator prey can have the same effect and attract alligators.
Avoid alligator attacks with the rule of thumb
Use the “Rule of Thumb” trick to make sure you keep an appropriate distance. How close is too close? With an outstretched arm hold your thumb up in front of the alligator. If you can see any part of the alligator you are too close and should back up until your thumb blocks it. If an alligator hisses or lunges in your direction that is a clear cut sign you are too close. Remember, while alligators appear slow and clumsy, some fish and wildlife departments suggest they can run as fast as 20 miles per hour for a short distance.
Baby alligators means protective momma gator is nearby
Avoid nests and baby alligators at all costs. If there are eggs and little ones there is sure to be a mama gator nearby and she could become aggressive if you are near her young.
Do not unintentionally attract alligators
If you are camping, don’t wash your dishes in or near any body of water. The splashing, smells and food attracts gators. If you are fishing in alligator country, don’t throw the guts into the water; and if you are catch and release fishing, don’t release a fish if you suspect a gator to be nearby.
Alligator attacks most often occur on children and pets
Alligators prefer easy meals. That is one of the reasons attacks on adult humans are so rare. However, children and pets can be different story. When hiking in gator country always keep a close eye on kids and pets. No swimming in waters where alligators may be present and always keep your pets on leash.
Don’t harass alligators
If you come across a gator along the trail, wait until it passes. It is illegal and very dangerous to annoy them by trying to get them to move. Meaning, don’t throw rocks or harass an alligator.