- Where: Live in freshwater environments: ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, swamps, brackish environments
- Identification: Looks like a crocodile!
- Best Time of Year: All
- Fun facts:
- Alligators in wetlands increase plant diversity and create habitats for other animals during droughts. They prefer slower moving water (i.e. swamps, rivers).
- Alligators are able to see in low light areas. The special structure called tapetum lucidum, located under their photoreceptors in their retina, reflects light to increase the amount of light detects. This will give off a red color on their eye-shine.
- They are ectothermic (they rely on outside temperature to regulate their body temperatures.)
Northern transplants to Florida are often astonished to see alligators, particularly if the folks don’t venture far from the condo community. There often are alligators in the man-made ponds and sloughs, but if you really want to see gators, you’ll probably have to paddle down the Myakka, or hike to Deep Hole. Alligators can be found in any body of freshwater, including lakes, rivers, marshes, and man-made canals or ponds throughout the state.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports about 16,000 complaints related to alligators per year, but also noted that alligator bites have remained at a steady rate despite the increased contact with humans. Coming into contact with alligators usually only happens in areas of standing water since they only leave water to bask in the sunlight or move to another body of water. Alligators can be found in ponds, canals, and ditches and they sometimes, though rarely, wander into swimming pools or golf course ponds.
Alligators are incredibly important in their habitats because they keep fish populations balanced so respecting their distance is crucial to avoid injury, although it is good to remember that it is illegal in the state of Florida to attempt to handle, disturb, or kill alligators. Feeding alligators is also strongly discouraged because this only increases the chance of encounters since they begin to see humans as a potential food provider. Keeping track of your surroundings is important as well, especially if you are near or in water and keep an eye on children and small pets if they are playing in water. If an alligator wanders close to your home, chances are it will probably move along on its own.
What happens if an alligator doesn’t leave on its own, is displaying alarming behavior, and is over four feet in length? This is referred to as a nuisance alligator. Alligators that are smaller than four feet are not big enough to pose a threat, even to small pets, so they can usually be left alone. The Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program will dispatch a licensed trapper and have a nuisance alligator removed. Nuisance alligators are killed rather than relocated. This is because alligators in Florida have a very healthy population so killing nuisance alligators doesn’t significantly affect their numbers. Attempting to relocate an alligator can also be very difficult since the nuisance alligator would have to be taken to a very remote area to minimize its chances of returning to its capture site and introducing an alligator to a new area can cause violence and even death among the alligators who have already established a home there.