Understanding Why Alligators Attack



Alligator basking on Silver River, Ocala, Florida

Alligator basking on Silver River, Ocala, Florida. Photo by Beverly Hill

Alligators, Alligator mississippiensis, have a long-running reputation for being unforgiving man-eaters, and while it’s true that people have fallen victim to these prehistoric reptiles over the years, not all of these attacks can be attributed to an alligator specifically targeting humans. Many of these attacks stem from people inadvertently placing themselves into a situation where they are viewed as potential prey items or even competing predators.


An alligator lies in wait for a meal.

An alligator lies in wait for a meal. Silver River, FL. Photo by Beverly Hill.

Alligators are predators of opportunity, meaning that they will lie in wait, often submerged, silently observing their surroundings until something peaks their interest. Then they will stealthily move into position so that they can launch their attack. With a bite force of up to 2,125 lbs they will attempt to kill prey by seizing, drowning or tearing pieces away using a “death roll” technique.

There are different theories as to why alligators may attack humans. One theory says that an alligator that has become accustomed to being fed by humans loses its natural fear of them and will actively approach them in search of food. Alligators that are not used to interacting with people will normally shy away.

Gator at Wakulla Springs, FL.

Gator at Wakulla Springs, FL. Photo by Beverly Hill

Another theory suggests that they become more aggressive and territorial during the breeding system which encompasses a major portion of the warmer months when more people are out enjoying the water. This includes female alligators aggressively defending the nest or hatchlings.

Whatever the motive, alligators should always be treated with caution and respect.

  • When around bodies of water avoid tall grasses near the water’s edge.
  • Never feed alligators. It’s illegal and can potentially alter their natural behavior.
  • Don’t swim, splash or snorkel in murky or dark water and never swim after dark.
  • Leave pets at home. Small animals are natural prey items and may draw the unwanted attention of an alligator.
  • Don’t swim after dark or in bodies of water where alligators are known to be present. Always be observant. In gator country treat all bodies of water as if alligators are present.
  • For small boat enthusiasts, canoes, kayaks and jon boats, keep hands and feet inside the boat at all times. Trailing a hand or foot over the side is an invitation for trouble.
  • When fishing, be careful when retrieving your catch. Gators have been known to try and take a fish.
  • Keep your distance from alligators and if on land never get between them and the water.
Alligator hidden in the grass. Silver River State Park. Photo by Beverly Hill.

Alligator hidden in the grass. Silver Springs, Ocala, FL. Photo by Beverly Hill.

What should you do if you are attacked by an alligator? Those that have survived attacks attribute their survival to fighting with everything they had including punching the animal in the snout and eyes. If the attack happens on land or near the water’s edge do everything possible to prevent the reptile from dragging you into deeper water where it has the advantage. Having someone nearby to assist the victim was also a determining factor in most instances.

The best rule to follow when in alligator country is to always be observant to the surroundings and avoid situations that might invite an encounter. Make your adventure a safe one.


Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission


About Beverly Hill

Beverly is a deputy clerk with the Florida court system and is an experienced writer in her free time. Her love of adventure and the outdoors is what fuels her desire to seek out new and exciting things.
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