Alligators are more concentrated in some areas because of loss of habitat due to drought.
LARGO – Just a reminder: It’s spring, and alligators are looking for love.
The reptiles are active this time of year, and they are found throughout the county.
“They’re on the move because it is mating season. But there’s a lot of habitat they are losing due to drought,” said Tony Young, a spokesman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Tallahassee.
“They are having to move to find water and to find a food,” he said. “There’s not any more alligators than there were last year, but there’s less habitat so they probably are more concentrated in certain areas because they have to be.”
Alligators have a good sense of smell, Young said.
“They really can smell water from a long way away,” he said. “If their home dries up, and they need to find a new home, they mainly try to travel at night so they are not seen,” he said.
A 10 foot, 8 inch alligator was attempting to cross Eighth Avenue Southwest in front of Taylor Park April 4 at 2:48 a.m. when a driver struck it. The driver got out of the car to see what was hit and saw that there was an alligator wedged under the car.
Largo police officers responded to the incident and contacted the Largo Fire Department to assist in removing the vehicle from atop the alligator. Agents from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission were contacted to take custody of the alligator.
The vehicle was undamaged, but the agents took the nuisance alligator away.
In the Largo area alligators are often seen in Taylor Lake, Walsingham Lake and the Largo Central Park Nature Preserve though they can be found in other waterways, too.
“We have a very robust alligator population in the state,” Young said.
Some Largo residents who live along the south section of Allen’s Creek believed they saw a crocodile several times in the waterway over the past several days. A state wildlife official sent a photo of the 6-foot reptile to an alligator and crocodile expert who identified it as an alligator. A resident planned to contact state officials to remove the alligator. There was concern that the alligator posed a threat to dogs in homes that surround the creek.
Recently, a man wading up to his chest in Taylor Lake ignored or didn’t see a no swimming sign posted nearby.
About 100 yards away, a 6-foot alligator lay motionless in the weedy water near the shore.
To say the swimmer was in danger would be a stretch, but state officials caution people not to swim in areas where gators are known to be present.
“People for the most part aren’t in alligator’s diet,” he said. “But sometimes alligators make a mistake just like sharks make a mistake, and they can bite you. If you just accidentally startle one. If you were just wading somewhere and you were doing it quietly where they didn’t know you were there, and just suddenly just touched its tale, it might just whip around and bite – just as a reaction.”
People should take precautions when bringing their dogs to parks and other areas where alligators are present.
“They love small dogs,” he said.
To eat, that is.
Having bass on a stringer tied to a belt loop can attract an alligator.
“They smell that dead fish, and then they follow you,” Young said. “They are opportunistic feeders.”
Young said he tries to emphasize safety in numbers.
“It’s true for a lot of different cases, but it’s also true with alligators, and a lot of potentially dangerous wildlife,” he said.
He advised outdoor enthusiasts to swim, ski and participate in other water sports where a lot of people are present and there’s a lot of boat traffic and noise to keep alligators away. People should’t engage in water activities in remote areas, particularly at dawn or dusk when alligators are most active, Young said.
“If you’re going to go back in a slough somewhere that looks like the last person who might have seen it is the Indians, and you want to go swimming there – that’s probably where you don’t want to do it,” Young said. “Especially by yourself.”
Alligators become more aggressive when people feed them, an illegal activity.
“Sometimes people intentionally feed them, which kind of makes them lose their wariness of man,” Young said. “Some people unintentionally feed alligators by cleaning their fish at the docks and throwing the scraps in the water, not knowing they are attracting snakes and alligators.”
Consequently, alligators will hang around docks and similar facilities more frequently.
In the past 10 years the Commission has received an average of nearly 16,000 alligator-related complaints per year. Most of the complaints deal with alligators occurring in places such as backyard ponds, canals, ditches, and streams, but other conflicts occur when alligators wander into garages, swimming pools and golf course ponds.
According to the commission, there were 22 fatal attacks in Florida from 1948 to 2011. In that same time frame, there were 111 minor bites and 224 major bites.
The only confirmed human fatality caused by an alligator in Pinellas County in recent decades occurred on May 13, 2006. Judy Cooper, 42, was killed by an alligator in a canal in the East Lake Woodlands subdivision in Oldsmar. Circumstances of the attack are uncertain because no witnesses were present. The 8-foot, 5-inch female alligator responsible for the attack was captured and destroyed.
Florida is home to two native crocodilians: the American alligator, which is found in all 67 counties, and the American crocodile, which may be found in coastal areas of the Keys, Southeast and Southwest Florida.
The commission conducts annual counts of alligators in the spring in harvest areas, where permits are issued for the hunting season.
“If we see that the count went down from the previous year, we will issue less permits for the coming hunting season,” Young said. “If we see the population has grown, we will issue more permits. We do try to keep the population in check.”
Living with alligators
The Conservation Commission provides the following advice about alligators:
• If you encounter any alligator that you believe poses a threat to people, pets or property call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (392-4286). Please be aware that nuisance alligators are harvested not relocated.
• Leave alligators alone. State law prohibits killing, harassing or possessing alligators. Handling even small alligators can result in injuries.
• Alligators are most active between dusk and dawn. Therefore, avoid swimming at night.
• Dogs and cats are similar in size is the natural prey of alligators. Don’t allow pets to swim, exercise or dunk in near waters that may contain alligators. Dogs often attract an alligator’s interest, so do not swim with your dog.
• Alligators are an important part of Florida’s landscape and play a valuable role in the ecology of our state’s wetlands. Alligators are predators and help keep other aquatic animal populations in balance.
• Seek immediate attention if you are bitten by an alligator. Alligator bites can result in serious infections.