Newcomer? Learn More About Florida’s Alligators

For some, seeing an alligator in the wild is a novelty. Learn more about the state’s official reptile, including where to spot them around Amelia Island, safety tips and more.

Welcome to Florida, home to around 1.3 million alligators according to estimates by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Florida has 67 counties and alligators can be found in all of them. There’s approximately one alligator for every 16 people living in the state.

Baby alligators hatch from eggs (the average clutch size is 38). It’s thought that 80% to 90% of hatchlings do not survive into adulthood. Imagine how many more alligators would be around if this were not the case.

Alligators, A Curiosity For First Timers

For some Florida visitors and new full or part-time residents coming from non-alligator regions, seeing an alligator in the wild for the first time is quite a novelty. Those with less familiarity are often curious about this American reptile when in the Sunshine State.

For those who’d like to get a glimpse of an alligator in the wild, there are plenty of opportunities to spot them, including on Amelia Island. Learning more about this apex predator is a good idea for newcomers to the Sunshine State, including safety tips.

Alligators — On The Move

Alligators move around, roaming between bodies of water. They can be found “in practically all fresh and brackish water bodies and occasionally in salt water,” according to the FWC. In general, alligators can be in rivers, lakes, in neighborhood retention ponds, found in swimming pools, spotted by hikers in natural areas, or golfers while playing. They’re even occasionally seen at Amelia Island’s oceanfront beaches. (More about alligators visiting beaches is further below, including an interesting GPS tracking study).

Amelia Island Alligators In Egans Greenway

Egans Creek Greenway, south section entrance from Jasmine Street. Amelia Island Living magazine photo.
Where To Spot Alligators? Egans Creek Greenway (seen here, south entrance from Jasmine Street).

One of the top local places to potentially spot an alligator is within Fernandina’s Egans Creek Greenway on Amelia Island. Visitors entering either side (north or south) of the Greenway will see posted alligator warning signs. The Florida Department of State website warns “Gators can move surprisingly fast over short distances, and their powerful jaws and swinging tails make them dangerous to approach.”

“Better Safe Than Sorry!”

Realize alligators may be present but go unnoticed, obscured by vegetation at water’s edge along creek banks and other Florida bodies of water. While unprovoked alligator attacks are rare, alligators can strike out quickly from the water, reaching a few feet onto land to grab a pet or person and pull them into and under the water. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission offers these safety tips:

Alligator Safety Tips From The FWC
how to co-exist living with alligators Florida
HOW TO CO-EXIST: Living With Alligators. (Graphic by FWC)
Follow the FWC’s guidance about how to be safer in areas where alligators may be present.
Hikers in south side of Egans Greenway, Amelia Island, Florida. Trail area where alligators often seen. (Photo by
Hikers in south side of Egans Greenway. Trail area where alligators often seen.

It’s common to spot as many as two dozen baby alligators with a large adult female gator in Egans Greenway south, the trail area pictured above.

Juvenile alligators, Amelia Island, Florida photographed at Egans Greenway in Fernandina Beach.
Young Alligators Photographed in Egans Greenway, Fernandina Beach

Pictured above, note that young alligators have yellow bands, described by experts as being “camouflage.” These bands fade as an alligator matures. Alligators also can be spotted in areas of Fort Clinch State Park and visitors will see warning signs posted there as well.

Alligator warning sign, Fort Clinch State Park. "Do not approach, frighten or feed by state law."
Alligator warning sign near Willow Pond, Fort Clinch State Park

The Willow Pond Nature Trail in particular, takes visitors through hardwood hammock and along areas of pond, alligator habitat. For those visiting Amelia Island on the weekend, a free guided Willow Pond nature tour starts at 10:30 a.m. on Saturdays (meet at the Willow Pond Parking area along the main park entry road).

Gators can be spotted in local rivers by boaters or those along the riverbanks of the St. Marys, Nassau and Amelia rivers. Alligators sometimes lay on the land adjacent to water, resting and sunning themselves. During the annual alligator harvest season, licensed hunters/trappers with permits often take alligators from the three local rivers noted above. The gator pictured below was in the Amelia River at Fernandina Harbor Marina, hanging around Brett’s Waterway Cafe.

Alligator seen swimming at Fernandina Harbor Marina near Brett's Waterway Cafe. Photo by
Alligator seen swimming at Fernandina Harbor Marina near Brett’s Waterway Cafe
When Are Gators Most Active?

As far as time of day, alligators are most active at night. Seasonally, alligators are most active during the hotter summer months here in northeast Florida. According to the FWC, “alligators are most active when temperatures are between 82° to 92° F (28° to 33° C). They stop feeding when the ambient temperature drops below approximately 70° F (21° C) and they become dormant below 55° F (13° C).”

When Might Alligators Be More Aggressive?

Florida alligators mate in May or June. “Females build a mound nest of soil, vegetation, or debris and deposit 32 to 46 eggs in late June or early July. Incubation requires approximately 63-68 days, and hatching occurs from mid-August through early September,” according to the FWC. Realize that female alligators may become aggressive if protecting young.

Since alligators are known to commonly move from one body of water to another, potentially any Florida fresh or brackish body of water could possibly have a gator at one time or another, or all the time.

Alligators in Ocean, At The Beach

More of a surprise, though, is seeing an alligator at the beach and/or emerging from the ocean (swimming in salt water). Captured with a cell phone, the video below is an alligator netted in the ocean, then pulled onto the beach a bit south of Fernandina’s Main Beach Park. Shared on social media and YouTube, it’s become the most well known local beach alligator encounter captured on video, see below.

Other Amelia Island beach alligators have been sighted, with images or videos posted on social media, including a few along the Cumberland Sound beachfront at Fernandina’s Fort Clinch State Park). Below is a small, young alligator Amelia Island Living photographed on the beach several years back in the month of April (south of Main Beach, north of Jasmine Street).

While it’s common knowledge that alligators travel between bodies of water, it’s far less understood that they also move from wetlands to marine habitat. Read below about a GPS tracking research study of alligator movements between freshwater ecosystems and salt water.

GPS Tracking Follows Alligator Movements

A fascinating study that monitored alligator movement with GPS tagging and electronic tracking, provided some insight. The study took place in Georgia, and the scientists were able to track alligators roaming between ecosystems. “Alligators don’t have salt glands and therefore can’t survive full-time in salt water. They move back and forth between marine and freshwater ecosystems to re-balance their salt levels — and to feed,” according to an online article at the National Science Foundation.

Alligators & Spring Tides

Gators follow food. The Georgia GPS tracking study of alligator movements revealed they stay longer in marine habitat “around spring tides — tides just after a full or new moon when there’s the greatest difference between high and low water,” according to the National Science Foundation article.

How Dangerous Are Alligators To Humans?

While very rare, there are Florida incidents when alligators attack humans, including fatalities (see further FWC data below). The odds of Florida resident being “seriously injured” by an alligator in an “unprovoked” attack in the state appears to be minuscule. The likelihood said to be “roughly only one in 3.1 million,” according to the FWC Human Alligator Incidents Fact Sheet (latest data published Feb. 2, 2022).

Nevertheless, when alligators kill people in Florida it becomes a sensational story, the same goes for sharks. Obviously, such attacks are a nightmare scenario in either case, but they receive disproportionate media attention. There’s a far more serious threat to human life lurking in Florida water — rip currents at the beach cause many more fatalities than sharks or alligators.

Green dye highlights rip current at beach, National Ocean Service image.
Green Dye Highlights Rip Current (National Ocean Service image)
Long-Term Look At Florida Alligator Attacks

Looking at a long time span — the last 73 years — the most recent data published by the FWC (dated Feb. 2, 2022), indicates a total of twenty-six people have died in Florida from “unprovoked” alligator bites (data through year 2021). “From 1948 to 2021, 442 unprovoked bite incidents have occurred in Florida, 26 of these bites resulted in human fatalities.” Since last year in 2021, two more people have reportedly been killed by alligators as of July 2022, bringing total to 28. The 2022 fatalities are according to media reports, since the FWC has not yet finalized investigations nor updated their published data. Alligator bite data for a full calendar year is not released/published by the FWC until the following year. Reportedly, through mid-July 2022, the FWC had already been contacted about 16 alligator bite incidents.

Growing Human Population & Visitation To Florida

Most Florida fatal alligator-human incidents happen when people were actually in water — a pond, lake, river or spring. Since millions of people invade areas of natural predator habitat with the growth of Florida population and visitation, there are bound to be clashes. Consider how many people live in Florida (21.7 million per U.S. Census, 2021 — the third most populous U.S. state), plus nearly 118 million domestic visitors in 2021. Statistically, however, the number of unprovoked alligator bites and deaths is minuscule. But obviously, nobody wants to become one of them.

Respect The Alligator

Alligators are an ancient species that has roamed America’s southeast since the age of dinosaurs. In contemporary times, more and more humans are recreating and living in alligator habitat. With Florida’s population growth and development, natural habitat around the state has been disappearing. It’s important for the public to respect the alligator, always keep a safe distance, and stay alert when near bodies of water.

Formerly An Endangered Species

American alligators were hunted to dangerously low levels long ago. Over time, they were eventually deemed recovered, removed from endangered status in 1987. Today, according to the FWC, “The American alligator is Federally protected by the Endangered Species Act as a Threatened species, due to their similarity of appearance to the American crocodile, and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule. “

Florida Alligator Management Program

Florida has an active alligator management program. Those considered a potential menace are removed from areas such as neighborhood ponds, golf courses and swimming pools. Florida also seasonally has an alligator harvest (hunting) with stringent rules.

Hunting Season — Florida Alligator Harvest

In Florida, the annual alligator harvest season is August 15 through November 1st and around 7,000 permits are typically issued (via three random drawings since demand surpasses supply). One permit allows the holder to harvest two alligators in a specific location (the harvest unit or county). Alligator trapping licenses are required, in addition to obtaining the permits plus two hide validation CITES tags. (There are also permit costs, refer to the FWC website for further info.)

Nassau County, Florida Alligator Harvest

Alligator harvest data reported here in Nassau County, FL shows 81 gators taken in 2021. The top waterways for the harvest (by highest number of gators taken), were the St. Marys River (36), the Nassau River (21) and Lofton Creek (12). Twenty-two of the alligators were at least 9 feet long, the largest measuring 12 feet long (taken from Nassau River).

Note that it is illegal to harvest alligators anywhere in and around Egans Creek and the Greenway on Amelia Island.

Results of Florida’s alligator harvest for the 2021 harvest season indicated throughout the state a total of 7,955 alligators were taken by those with permits. FWC’s data shows that the largest alligator harvested in the state was 13.8 feet long, the average size 8.3 feet. “Alligator hides, meat and their parts can be sold from legally harvested and tagged alligators,” states the FWC.

What Does Alligator Meat Taste Like?

Wondering about the choicest cuts of alligator meat and taste? According to Fresh From Florida, “Tail meat, the choicest cut, is a mild-flavored white meat that has a texture similar to veal. Ribs, nuggets, and wings are darker meat with a stronger taste and a texture similar to pork shoulder.”  Alligator is said to be high in protein and low in fat and cholesterol, considered a lean meat. Alligator can be found on some restaurant menus in Florida and can also be purchased online and shipped frozen from various suppliers. Check out the Fresh From Florida website for listing of vendors selling alligator meat and skins.

Alligator Safety & Hotline

The FWC states: “Public safety is our highest priority. Serious injuries caused by alligators are rare in Florida, but if you are concerned about an alligator, you can call our toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR. We will dispatch one of our contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation.

What Is Considered A Nuisance Alligator? 

According to the FWC:

“Generally, an alligator may be considered a nuisance if it’s at least 4 feet in length and believed to pose a threat to people, pets or property…Alligators less than 4 feet in length are not large enough to be dangerous to people or pets, unless handled. You should never handle an alligator, even a small one, because alligator bites can result in serious infection and it’s illegal.”

Nuisance Alligators Are Not Relocated

Because Florida “has a healthy and stable alligator population,” alligators are not relocated when picked up by trappers, says the FWC. “The removal of nuisance alligators does not have a significant impact on our state’s alligator population.”

Home Of The Gators

The state’s elite research university is well known as the home of the “Gators.” Located in Gainesville, the University of Florida’s storied football arena is called “The Swamp,” and football fans do the “Gator Chomp.” GO GATORS!!!

More Info About Alligators

Learn much more about Florida alligators by visiting the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission website.