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Alligator mating season is approaching: Here’s what you need to know about Florida’s favorite reptile

With 1.3 million alligators in Florida, they’re important and valuable members of the ecosystem.

TAMPA, Fla. — You’ve seen the videos. Alligators taking a stroll across golf courses, getting scooped up in trash cans, or just taking a break in your home after a long day at the swamp.

You could say Floridians have an interesting relationship with the state’s favorite reptile. 

While alligators can be dangerous, they tend to mind their own business. With 1.3 million alligators in Florida, they’re valuable members of the ecosystem.

In general, alligators are not too keen on hanging out around humans. They will actually try to avoid you entirely unless they’re hungry and have been fed by humans before.

Of course, though, there have been fatalities from alligator attacks in Florida — 16, to be exact, between 1999 and 2019. All these attacks vary in terms of the size of the gator and the size of the human. However, one of the most common factors is how these attacks happen. Most occur when humans swim in their environment.

If you’re out in the Florida wilderness, avoid those swampy banks where alligators like to hang out. You also may want to avoid swimming in murky water. 

You know that fear a lot of people have about something touching their legs or feet underwater? Well, that especially applies to gators.

The Key West Aquarium says if alligators are hungry and people are in the water, they may go for your ankles. And don’t bother trying to run because alligators can easily outrun people, hitting speeds up to 20-mph on land. But if you do run, don’t run in a straight line. If you run in a zig-zag formation, it’s harder for an alligator to turn and chase you.

While alligators don’t sound like the nicest of animals, there are some cool facts about this dinosaur of a reptile.

American alligators have been around for about 84 million years, and their ancestors evolved more than 200 million years ago. The only reptiles older are turtles and tortoises.

Gators also have some crazy “spidey” senses. They have an excellent sense of smell, their vision is as good as an owl’s, even at night, and they can sense vibrations from prey as they wait in the water.

Despite having no vocal cords, alligators are the loudest reptiles in the world. The growl they make comes from the gator sucking in air and blowing it out, causing a roaring sound.

Their hearing is also so good that mothers can actually hear their babies calling for them while they’re still inside the eggs. Mothers also dedicate a lot of energy to raising their young, carrying the babies in their mouths to and from the water. They’ll also gently poke holes in eggs if they can hear their babies struggling to hatch.

And when it comes to the baby alligator nest, temperature dictates the gender of the babies. With warmer weather, you’ll have male alligators. Cooler weather leads to females.

Since there are so many gators in Florida, they have a significant impact on the ecosystem — in a good way. These apex predators keep a lot of other animal populations in check.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says these alligators eat snakes, turtles, smaller mammals, small birds, and fish. But, if the opportunity is there, alligators have no fear. They’ll attack and eat deer, sheep, cows, boars, and even other alligators.

Without gators, experts say you’d have an unbalanced ecosystem which could cause certain populations of animals to decrease.

If you see a gator in the wild, leave it alone and admire it from afar. However, if you find yourself bit by an alligator, experts recommend making a lot of noise and using force, like poking the gator’s eyes. You shouldn’t have to worry about that though if you keep your distance from their habitats.

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