- Alligator attacks on humans are relatively rare, with an average of only six fatal attacks per year in the United States.
- Most alligator attacks on humans are the result of the animal feeling threatened or provoked, such as when humans encroach on their territory or attempt to feed them.
- Alligator attacks can be extremely dangerous, with the animals capable of inflicting serious injuries or even death with their powerful jaws and sharp teeth.
Alligators are large reptiles that live in the Americas and China. In North, South, and Central America (if you include their close cousin, caimans), they are found in coastal areas. Chinese Alligators are found in the basin of the Yangtze River.
In the United States, the American alligator has a range that extends from the Rio Grande River in Texas across the Southeast and has a maximum northern range of North Carolina. They prefer freshwater environments but rarely live more than a few hundred miles from the ocean.
These animals are wild and can be dangerous. It’s never a good idea to get purposefully close to an alligator, tempt, or provoke it in any way.
However, alligator attacks are fairly rare—and they eat people even less commonly. Only a small fraction of attacks are deadly, and often the remains are found intact after an attack.
In this article, we’ll discuss everything there is to know about alligator attacks—from their powerful bite force, to how to prevent an attack, and what to do if a gator does bite you.
Alligator Attacks: Are they Common?
It seems like we hear about alligator attacks often! But are they as common as they seem? There have actually been just 401 registered alligator bites in Florida since 1948. Of these, only a small percentage were fatal.
Alligators like to hunt easy prey, and they’re usually scared of people!
But when alligators do attack, they can run at speeds up to 30 miles per hour (MPH) on land. In the water, where they’re difficult to see, they can swim up to 20 MPH.
By contrast, the fastest humans can run a little over 25 miles per hour and swim 5-6 miles per hour. Since most of us aren’t Olympic athletes, we’re often much slower than this!
We tend to think of alligators as sedentary creatures, but this perceived laziness is actually them storing energy. Once they’re ready to move, they’re very quick!
In addition, an alligator’s bite force is over 2,000 pounds per square inch (PSI). Humans have a bite force of 150 PSI and large dogs such as German Shepherds have one of just under 240 PSI.
How Normal is it For an Alligator to Eat Humans?
While alligators are known to be dangerous animals, the question of whether they commonly eat humans is a complex one. In reality, alligator attacks on humans are relatively rare, and instances of alligators preying on humans are even rarer.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, there have been a total of 401 unprovoked alligator attacks on humans in Florida between 1948 and 2019. Of those, only 25 resulted in fatalities. While any attack is a tragedy, these numbers suggest that alligator attacks on humans are not a common occurrence.
It’s also worth noting that most alligator attacks on humans are the result of the animal feeling threatened or provoked. Alligators typically view humans as prey only in very specific circumstances, such as when humans are swimming in areas known to be alligator habitats.
Despite the relatively low risk of alligator attacks on humans, it’s still important to take precautions when living or recreating in areas where alligators are present. This includes avoiding swimming in areas where alligators are known to live, keeping a safe distance from alligators, and not feeding them.
What do Alligators Eat?
Alligators typically eat small prey that is easy to take down. They don’t like putting in too much work for a meal!
You can expect to see an alligator munching on tiny creatures like:
- Small mammals
They are opportunists, however, and may also eat other alligators or dead animals that they come across.
When targeting large prey, they typically try to drag it underwater and drown it. We see this often when gators attack humans as well.
Do Alligators Eat People?
As we’ve discussed, alligator attacks are pretty rare in themselves. Would an alligator eat a human after killing one, though? What about if they came across a dead body?
Alligators eating humans isn’t unheard of. Occasionally, an alligator has been found to have human remains in their stomachs.
However, there have been plenty of attacks where the human’s body was later found intact, such as the sad death of a 2-year-old child at Disneyworld in 2016.
If an alligator came across a dead body, it would likely eat that as well—after all, they are opportunistic feeders. The most recent alligator fatality, as of early 2022, was an incident where a 71-year man was killed in Louisiana by a 504-pound alligator. The attack occurred while the man was checking the side of his home for damage during a hurricane.
In total, there were 8 fatal alligator attacks in the United States between 2010-2019. To illustrate how rare they are across much of the alligators’ range, a fatal Texas alligator attack in 2015 was the first fatal alligator attack in the state since 1836.
What Provokes Alligators to Attack People?
Alligators typically attack for one of the following reasons:
- Protecting a nest
- Aggression from males looking to mate
- A human provokes the attack
Attacks typically happen in or near the water near shore. Alligators don’t tend to run far from water chasing humans.
How to Prevent Alligator Attacks
Alligator attacks tend to happen in areas frequented by gators such as rivers, creeks, and swamps. They like still, fresh waters.
Gators hunt at night, so avoids these areas past dusk to prevent yourself from running across a hungry alligator.
In addition to hunger, male alligators also tend to attack during the mating season around May to June.
Here are some more tips for preventing alligator attacks:
- Never swim or wade in waters that alligators are known to swim in.
- Always supervise children in or near the water, even if the water is shallow.
- Don’t swim or wade in water past dusk.
- Never feed alligators, as this will cause them to associate humans with food.
- Dispose of trash properly and never toss garbage, especially food, into the water.
- Keep your distance when observing or photographing gators—getting that close-up isn’t worth your life!
- Don’t provoke, capture, or kill alligators. This can result in injury to yourself and is also illegal without a permit.
- Alligators are wild animals and should never be kept as pets.
- Tall fences are a must to keep gators from your yard, pets, and children. They can and will climb, so make sure your fencing is at least 4.5 feet high.
- Never approach a dead gator, especially if they are on cement. They might be basking in the sun, and very much alive!
Unfortunately, alligators are more likely to attack children than adults. This is because children are smaller, and might appear less threatening to the animals.
What Should you do if Bitten?
If you are ever bitten by an alligator, you should be loud and fight back. Because they like easy prey, they’re less likely to continue fighting if you give them a challenge.
Aim for the face, particularly their eyes.
If you’re a witness to an alligator attack, be as loud as possible. This might help to scare the gator away.
Lastly, be sure to see a doctor as soon as possible after being attacked by an alligator. Animal bites can very quickly become infected, which can be deadly.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Mia2you/Shutterstock.com
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