Facts and statistics, plus what to do if you’re attacked
Did you know that more than 1 million alligators live in Florida’s freshwater systems?
That includes marshes, lakes, canals, rivers and swamps, and that roughly equals one alligator for every 15 residents. There is even an 80-mile stretch of highway in the Everglades called “Alligator Alley” (and there is only one gas station the entire way, so fill up before you go).
Since Florida alligators don’t pay much attention to roadside barriers or property lines, many drivers and pedestrians have learned the hard way to keep their eyes peeled in the Sunshine State. Alligators go where they want, which includes yards, golf courses and anywhere else food might be available.
Alligators typically don’t think of people as food. According to Nick Wiley, the executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, “People -- even small people -- are not their typical prey.”
Interest in Florida alligator attacks spiked in 2016 after two-year-old Lane Graves was snatched by a gator at a Florida resort, and again recently when a woman’s arm was found inside a gator’s intestinal tract and her body in a nearby lake. This behavior was considered highly unusual, not only because it was unprovoked, but also because alligators just don’t normally attack humans, much less want to eat them. Residents had been warned about a wandering alligator in the days before the most recent fatality, and officials believe she was targeted because she was walking her two dogs -- which are very attractive prey.
Florida alligator bite statistics date back to 1948, ranging around three major bites per year. The chance of someone being attacked is one in 3.2 million. The worst years for fatalities were 2001 and 2006, with three people dying each of those years from Florida alligator attacks. And there have only been 23 fatalities between 1948 and 2016. There have even been stretches during which no fatal attacks by alligators occurred in Florida.
Twenty-three fatalities is admittedly a small number, but that doesn’t mean the opportunities for alligators to attack don’t present themselves. This is because Florida has capitalized on alligators as part of the state’s identity, pulling them into the spotlight far more often than they would be on their own.
Alligators feature in Florida’s marketing efforts as school mascots, and as part of tourist attractions like alligator wrestling, viewing in airboat tours and feeding. Plenty of residents have stories to tell (such as encounters with Chubbs, the enormous mascot who roams the Buffalo Creek Golf Course) or have family traditions like feeding baby alligators pieces of hotdog for $2.
Most alligator experiences are contained and handled by people who know what they’re doing. But what happens if a gator lumbers onto your front porch? Imagine looking out your window to see this 11 footer found on someone’s lawn in the Villages! Or, perhaps every mom’s nightmare in Florida, when an alligator takes a dip in your pool - and your kids want to swim with it!
What to do if a Florida alligator attacks
Alligators are attracted by motion. Under normal circumstances they will not be attack you unless you do something to attract their attention or encroach on their territory. This means do not feed them. You might think they’re hungry, being in the wild, but they do just fine on their own and don’t need your help to survive.
As Ron Magill, wildlife expert and communications director at Zoo Miami said on Good Morning America, “It’s rare that an alligator will come out of the water and go after a human being.”
Let’s say you are taking a walk and an alligator slithers up onto the bank, locking its cold, reptilian eyes on you. What should you do?
Use those feet and hightail it out of there. Gators will attack to defend themselves or their territory; unless you’ve really angered it, the alligator shouldn’t chase you.
If a gator gets you in its clutches or snatches you underwater, don’t play dead. Fight back, and fight back hard. If it takes you into a death roll, try to roll with it to avoid losing the arm or leg it has hold of.
Gouge its eyes
An alligator’s eyes are its most sensitive spots, so poking it in the eyes could make the gator open its jaws and release you. See more info here.
Have you ever seen an alligator on your property in Florida? Let us know!
Tina P. says
Hi, I’m planning on moving to Florida but I do have a five year old boy who is very rambunctious and loves water. I want to keep him safe from gators and I’m wondering if Florida is a safe place for a toddler boy who is very curious and will he be safe in our front and backyard from These reptiles!? Thanks!
Lance Buchanan says
Hi Tina, while alligator accidents in Florida do happen, statistically they are quite rare. Many people who grow up in Florida manage to avoid run-ins with these reptiles (including myself). That said, we certainly recommend teaching your young son about the importance of water safety and about respecting these wild animals.
Ray Germa says
Just to be clear, it is not safe for anyone to enter freshwater lakes and rivers here I n Florida. The alligators have lost their fear of humans and will attack given the chance. As long as you do not go into the water you are safe.
Perhaps it’s time to reintroduce the fear of humans on the alligator population. The numbers are growing so rapidly, and I don’t consider the numbers of attacks on people and pets to be low. Am I a Neanderthal? I don’t think so but maybe. They are killers. Why do we encourage killers in our living spaces?
Ian Pisarcik says
Thank you for your comment.
Lori T says
They are not in our living space … We are invading their homes
Melissa Gold says
I can understand feeling that way. We all need to figure out how to live our own lives, while keeping wildlife disruption to a minimum. Hopefully, we can all peacefully coexist. Stay safe!
Dr. Tessan says
23 deaths in almost 70 years! Yes, that’s insanely low. Killers?! How many people do humans kill?
Did you even look at the stats. It is RARE to be attacked, let alone killed, by a gator.
I have lived in Bradenton Fl for the last 5 years and personally know of 3 dogs attacked and killed in this area.
My. EST advice is to never let your dog run without a leash. Every attack was a result of people letting their dog run without a leash. People don’t realize how fast these reptiles are when they need to.
It’s been 26 years since I’ve visited my hometown of Brandon. Growing up, we frequently went swimming in the Alifia River and Lithia Springs. Back then gators were around but not many. I was wanting to take my 9 year old in July to see these natural spots. But is the prolific number of gators too much of a concern? Do the locals still visit these spots?
Brian Keith Briscoe says
As much as I love Florida I cannot fsthomntaking my dog anywhere but the ocean to swim. I don’t even feel comfortable fishing at the edge of bodies of freshwater in Florida- stats be damned.
Ian Pisarcik says
That’s too bad. But, I bet your dog loves the ocean! Thanks for reading.
Kim Addison says
There is an alligator in our pond behind our condo. My dog does not go in the water, but she goes pee etc.. beside the water. Will the alligator actually come out of the water and go after my dog?
Ian Pisarcik says
I’m an attorney and not an expert on alligator behavior. In general, I think it’s a good idea to assume the alligator could come out of the water and therefore you should keep your dog close to you (and away from the pond). The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission might be able to provide more information.
100 percent yes. They hunt prey along the shoreline. Here’s hoping your dog is still with us but please do not let it go near the shoreline.
Ian Pisarcik says
Scary! Thanks for the information.
I have lived in Florida my whole life. Gators are something you respect and avoid. There are many videos online of them coming out of the water onto HIGH docks snatching dogs or pulling themselves up… this even surprised me they could do this as I’ve always just avoided the shore line. There have been many times I’ve been out walking around water with my head on a swivel and turn around to see a huge gator had come out of the water and is just laying there ,at least 6 foot away from the water it crawled out of,without me have even noticed.!!! Ever FL native will have those same stories.They are extremely stealthy!
Ian Pisarcik says
Thanks for sharing!
Smarty pants 78 says
Yes the gator will sneak up close and strike anything close to water especially 100 lb dog for a 7-9 ft gator is nothing. Gators will drag the dog into the water and drown it. Watch videos of it on youtube , it is shocking how fast and quick they are . Keep your dog on leash at all times and away from the water or your dog will be eaten. You won’t even see the gator before it is too late. Your talking about a apex predator that survived past the dinosaurs.
Uli Fesseler von Stargard says
well… since the cities and counties give out building permits like candy, Humans build and build and build more and more homes and skyscrapers on the Florida Peninsula, going more and more inland and into Gator habitat. No wonder they come checking the new neighborhoods, their driveways, their pools, some even trying to open doors… WE are in THEIR home, not the other way around.. and we have bite size goodies like dogs and little people/kids to snack on. That being said, “Hell NO’ don’t let your kids swim in canals and lakes! Remember the unfortunate tyke in Orlando’s Disney who became an afternoon snack for a gator at one of the lakes there… Hell no, don’t let your dog run loose anywhere near the Everglades, people dump exotic pets like African Monitors and Burmese Pythons there who have no natural enemies here and grow and multiply like crazy, eating all the Native Wildlife- and a dog or person here and there.
Stick to waterparks, pools and the beach. Plenty of that .
Ian Pisarcik says
It’s hard to disagree with any of this! Thanks for the comment.
Virgin Cotton says
Making these comments only scare people, and spreads the hype and myth of the malevolent alligator; Your comments; “Remember the unfortunate tyke in Orlando’s Disney who became an afternoon snack for a gator at one of the lakes there.”
None of this is true, there has never been a dog or human eaten, nor any part of one. Humans and dogs are not in the food chain. Alligators bite someone because they disguise themselves to look like food and the alligator disengages from the encounter as soon as the primitive nerve fiber we call a ‘brain’ tells it that what he caught is not food. To mention the kid at Disney, he was playing in the water creating a splash, for millions of years, the alligator has gone to bite a splash and gotten food; (fish-turtle), this time he got the kid, total accident. If the gator could have seen the kid in human form, he would have never bitten him.
Looking towards the future. We don’t want to create a problem where all of a sudden attacks start rising right? Nobody wants that. This is a conversation that needs to be had constantly. We want to avoid trouble for all involved.
We are moving to Naples, Florida actually driving right now, and we have a small dog and cat who we recently rescued from outdoors. Does anyone have any advice on what we should do with the cat? Keep him indoors or let him in the covered balcony with the pool? Should we live near the woods instead of a lake?
Chi town says
I plan on moving to Florida this winter, but I’m terrified of alligators. There’s a retention pond on the complex. I’m scared to death for my dog. If I keep her on a short leash and don’t let her near the water, is she safe?
Melissa Gold says
Hello. That’s a good question. I don’t know the answer because I’m not an alligator expert. But, I think the best thing you can do is to call the complex manager and ask if there are alligators in the pond, if there have been any issues with pets, and how far the alligators venture outside the pond (if at all). A recent news story reported that an alligator smaller than 4 feet is too small to be dangerous, and that they tend to eat fish or frogs but aren’t generally dangerous to pets.
There’s also a lot of information on the University of Florida website (https://sfyl.ifas.ufl.edu/archive/hot_topics/environment/alligator_safety.shtml) about safety, including a number to call with questions. Best of luck for your move!
I lived in a complex in Tampa with a retention pond. Alligators would frequently be found in the pond, as with any body of water over 8 inches deep … puddles… etc. not exaggerating. I had 2 small dogs when I lived there and never had any issues as long as they were on leashes.
Please keep in mind that there are other predators besides alligators. Our NextDoor has numerous posts about bobcats, coyotes, hawks and eagles that have been forced out of their habitat as more and more wildlands are sold and developed. Small dogs and cats are at risk, and since I have pet rabbits, it infuriates me when people let their rabbits roam outside. Or worse, abandon them to fend for themselves. Our pets are clueless about predators and an easy mark. In other words, even if you keep your pets away from fresh water lakes, rivers and ponds, they can be grabbed right from your own backyard. And BTW if you live near the Everglades, pythons are a serious risk to pets. Thanks to humans who released them when they got too big, pythons have ruined the entire ecosystem. They are dangerous exotics that don’t belong here. Alligators are native and at one time were hunted so much for meat and their hides that they nearly went extinct. When they’re hand fed by humans, they learn to swim up to people on the shoreline. Newcomers and their pets are vulnerable. Always keep pets on a leash. Look for dog parks where they can be offleash to play. Most HOAs as well as city and county ordinances do not allow pets, including cats, to roam.
I’m living here, it’s all true. I have a dog. I spotted a huge adult gator on a nearby golf course.
Ian Pisarcik says
Scary! Thanks for the comment.
Hello. I have been living in Florida for 41 years. Currently, I live on a canal between two large Lakes and I have seen plenty of gators just about everywhere. I see them swimming in the canal and in my back yard. and crossing the road in front of my house. I saw a 7′ gator walking across the parking lot of a local mall late one night. I saw a 9′ gator cross International Drive in Orlando and slither into a retention pond by a resort hotel A boy swimming in a lake about a half-mile from my house was attacked by a large gator about 5 years ago. Luckily, he survived with minor injuries. While paddling, my canoe was attacked by a 6-7′ gator. DO NOT SWIM IN FLORIDA FRESHWATER. DO NOT LET YOUR CHILDREN OR PETS PLAY BY THE WATER’S EDGE. Gators are “extremely fast” when they want to be! Before approaching the waters edge throw a stick in the water to see what happens and If you want to know if gators are in the water, throw in a rock or stick that will make a large splash. If there, the gators will come to investigate. You must assume there is a gator in any Florida freshwater!
Melissa Gold says
Hello, Kirk. Thank you for sharing your advice with our readers! Yes, alligators are dangerous and it’s good to make people aware that they need to be careful. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
W.Stacy Brown says
Has everybody lost their sense? Allegators are dangers to us, it is irresponsible to allow them to cause harm to anyone. This position about THEIR RIGHTS is madness! Lose your dog, lose your kid…Sure some are making money from the GATORS and that is justification for this. Call the animal “control” dept and they will arrive a week from Thursday, maybe. “Well they need more guys, more trucks, Hey you know we are busy……” Enough! Allowing this is as logical as allowing any other zoo animal to roam free. We know the danger to humans to say “well it only costs several kids every couple of years and we’re making money selling hats and t shirts” is criminal.
Thanks for being one of the few with compassion and common sense. Anyone who disregards a human’s life over an alligator is quite appalling!
I am a runner and i love to run on trails, but after reading this, when i move to Orange Port, im not sure i should be ne doing that. Any comments?
Ian Pisarcik says
Unfortunately, alligator attacks are something you have to worry about. I might contact the Florida Animal Control Association to see if they can give you some specifics about your level of risk where you’re running.
Are you kidding me! Afraid to run ? Too many folks are too far removed from the natural world and have little common sense Some people are much better suited to stay in the city close to the meanest most dangerous and destructive species on earth
Ian Pisarcik says
Thanks for your comment.
Most trails are safe for runners, but I do know of one trail in Jupiter that was shut down because people sitting at picnic tables near a freshwater lake were feeding the alligators. They started crawling up by the trail, waiting for handouts.
SpoiledRotten Brat says
SLIDELL, La. (AP) — Sheriff’s officials are still searching for a man whose arm was ripped off while being attacked by an alligator in Hurricane Ida’s floodwaters. 9-2-2021
Cathleen S. says
I’ve lived in Florida 68 years. I’m afraid of alligators. Although, I relish the idea of being able to avoid a confrontation, however, I live on the Everglades boundary, I don’t walk ever around our development anymore because of the alligators. This is their home first and we need to remember that.. I’ve had pet lizards and they were very affectionate with me. But, an alligator is wild. Respect that. They have a place in our Ecosystem.