Living with Alligators

by: Davis Yancy Clegg


Florida Alligator in Water


We have shared the entirety of the southeastern portion of the United States with alligators as long as we have populated it ourselves. Marshes, swamps, and other large bodies of water have played host to the alligator for centuries. However, there have been a few things that have happened to disrupt the routine of things. In recent years, tourism has begun to boom, particularly in Florida. You are likely to come across a gator of unknowable size at some point. A few things to know about alligators:

SIZE:  The average size of an alligator is 6.5 feet to 13 feet. Some males can grow up to 18 feet, while females rarely grow past 9 feet.

DIET:  Their diet mainly consists of easily attainable prey such as fish, snakes, turtles, small mammals, birds, frogs, and even snails.

HABITAT:  Fresh water shores, swamps and lakes from North Carolina to Florida and west to Texas.On land alligators can lumber along dragging their tails, or they can walk on their toes with the heels of their hind feet and most of their tail well off the ground. Using this “high walk” alligators can run up to 38 km/h for short distances.

Alligator on shoreUsually, the problem between people and alligators is only that they are in some area where they are not wanted. Although, there have been cases of unprovoked attacks on pets, livestock, and even Humans. A professional landscaper died on Friday July 23, 2004. She was attacked by a monstrous 12-foot gator and dragged into a nearby pond. The gator nearly tore off one of her arms. She finally succumbed to an infection caused by the bites she received during the attack. Janie Melsek was attacked by the alligator as she worked on landscaping behind a home, just off the Florida coast in the Gulf of Mexico. After the animal pulled her into the water, a neighbor and police officers engaged in a fierce “tug-of-war” to pull her from the reptile’s jaws. “My mom showed more courage than fear, and I could not be more proud of her,” said Melsek’s daughter, Joy Williams, 29. “She’s just absolutely amazed me and our whole community with the fight she put up.”

Since 1948, there have been over 200 unprovoked alligator attacks, with 12 of those resulting in fatalities. It seems there is one rule that universally sums up how to interact with an alligator if you happen to come upon one in your backyard. Leave it Alone! Let the wild be wild. There is no need in reporting a gator that is sunning on the bank of your pond or swimming within your property boundaries. It is likely that the gator will move along on it’s own to find a more suitable habitat. There are some simple rules you can follow to keep interactions between humans and alligators off the local news.

DON’T feed or entice alligators. Inform others that feeding alligators is against the law. Alligators generally lose their natural fear of people when they associate food with people. By feeding alligators, people create problems for themselves and others.

DON’T feed other wildlife near the water, throw fish scraps into the water or leave them along the shoreline. Although you are not intentionally feeding alligators, the alligator doesn’t understand that. Dispose of fish scraps or other potential alligator foodstuffs properly.

DON’T let pets swim or run along the shoreline of waters known to contain large alligators. Alligators are attracted to dogs probably because they are about the same size as an alligator’s natural prey.

DON’T swim or allow pets to swim in areas with emergent vegetation (plants growing up out of the water). Alligators favor this type of habitat. Swim in designated areas only.

DON’T swim, walk dogs or small children, at night or at dusk, along the shoreline of waters that are known to contain large alligators. Large alligators feed most actively during the evening hours. Note that it is illegal to water-ski after dark in Florida.

DON’T try to remove alligators from their natural habitat or try to keep one as a pet. It is strictly against the law to do so. Alligators do not become tame in captivity and handling even small ones may result in bites. Instead, enjoy watching and photographing alligators from a distance.

It is important that we enjoy and protect the lives we have built for our families in residential areas of the wetlands, but we must do it respectfully. While noticing the danger, you may notice no danger is truly there!


It is safer to observe wildlife from the boat.

Come join us on a Shrimping Eco Tour to the St. Marys River Basin. (more…)





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One Response to “Living with Alligators”

  1. Rachel Says:

    I’ll admit that seeing an alligator up close would definitely spook me. I think as long as you use common sense and give the alligator space, you can avoid any issues. Thanks for sharing the tips.