Spring has sprung, and that doesn’t just mean glorious wildflowers on Florida’s trails. It means alligators are on the move, too. “Alligators become more active and visible during spring when temperatures rise and their metabolism increases,” says the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.
It should come as no surprise that you’re seeing them more frequently. Temperatures are warming up and the sun is shining longer every day. But there is also a biological clock that nudges these behemoths out of the water in spring, searching for a mate.
If it means trekking across a trail, swimming miles down a river, or crossing a busy highway to find a female, no problem. They go where they need to. According to the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, alligator courtship begins in early April, and mating occurs in May or June.
To attract a mate, males slap the water with their heads and bellow. Loudly. When you’re hiking on trails near bodies of water, these sounds can surprise you. We were hiking on the La Chua Trail at Paynes Prairie – where you’ll see an incredible number of alligators at any time of year – when we spotted this mating pair.
Alligator sounds courtesy U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
Alligators do not pair up permanently. The male moves on, and the female finds a place to build a nest. Eggs are laid in June or early July, and hatch two months later, mid-August to mid-September.
Hanging around the nest, “Mama Gator” will fend off predators and keep an eye on her hatchlings for up to two years. Although alligators lay several dozen eggs, only a few will survive to adulthood. Baby alligators are easily snatched up by great blue herons and other wading birds.
Be safe around alligators
Alligators should never be fed in the wild. The only alligators you should ever see fed are those inside commercial alligator farms and attractions, where they are licensed to do so. A fed gator can’t tell the difference between your hand and a piece of chicken.
If you are hiking, paddling, or boating and see an alligator heading towards you instead of away from you, that’s not a good sign. It usually means that the gator has been fed, whether intentionally or by the tossing of scraps into the water, and now it associates humans with food. Don’t stick around to find out why.
If an alligator is at least four feet long and you feel it is threatening you, your kids, or your pet, call the Florida FWC Nuisance Alligator Program at 1-866-392-4286 to report the location and the situation.
Where to see alligators
Where can you see alligators in Florida? In any body of water, including drainage ditches, backyard ponds, and even making their way into swimming pools. Always look before you leap!
Always keep at least 20 feet between you and any alligators you see basking or floating in the water. Keep your pets and kids away from them, too.
There are some places, however, where you will usually see lots and lots of alligators. Where is the best place to watch alligators from a safe distance? From a boardwalk.
See the sidebar for our lists of top places to spot an alligator while you’re visiting parks and trails in Florida.