Louisiana has about two million alligators in the state, and Louisiana’s four million acres of swamps, lakes, and marshes make this the ideal habitat for alligators. Of course, residents of the Bayou State also enjoy the many lakes and rivers located here. But when it comes to sharing the water with alligators in Louisiana: is it safe to swim?
Because of their size, alligators have adapted to be ambush predators. Their bumpy, dark gray skin makes for fantastic camouflage in the water, giving them the appearance of drifting logs. This way, alligators slowly creep up on their prey until they are close enough to snap.
Preferring little meals they can consume in one or two bites, alligators eat almost any kind of meat, be it birds, fish, small mammals, or even other reptiles. During the summer, an alligator may eat only once or twice a week.
As ectothermic reptiles, an alligator’s body temperature changes based on the outside environment. Thus, alligators need the sun to heat their bodies, and they use the water to cool down. When it is a humid, sunny day, alligators are as likely to be out enjoying it as much as swimmers are.
Alligator Activity in Louisiana
Alligators are most active when temperatures are between 82°F to 92°F. When temperatures drop below 70°F, they stop feeding to conserve energy. And, when temperatures are below 55°F, alligators become inactive and hide out in burrows they’ve dug. Throughout the winter, alligators spend the majority of their time in their burrows.
The months of April through June are alligators’ mating seasons. After the female’s eggs are fertilized, a female alligator constructs a nest out of piled vegetation and mud and lays between 10-50 eggs. Once laid, the eggs are covered with mud and foliage from the nest for protection. Mid-August to September is when you’ll see alligator hatchlings.
Understanding when alligators in Louisiana are most active will also help you know if it is safe to swim. Knowing when mating and hatching months are will help you be more aware of alligator activity.
Alligators in Louisiana: Is It Safe to Swim?
The safest option, when it comes to swimming, is a public or private pool. The water has clear visibility, so you know exactly what you’re jumping into. However, if you would like to enjoy a swimming hole, lake, or river in Louisiana, here are a couple of safety guidelines to follow:
- Don’t swim at dusk or night. Alligators, because of their superior night vision, do most of their hunting when it gets dark. Thus, they are most active at night.
- Don’t swim by thick, vegetated areas or shorelines. Alligators are ambush predators and use the cover to sneak up on their prey. Plus, it gives you poor visibility when you are looking for alligators.
- Don’t splash the water excessively. That signals to alligators that an injured animal is in the water, which might be an easy meal.
- Because alligators prefer temperatures over 82°F, cooler summer days make it less likely an alligator is scouting the water. As mentioned before, when it’s lower than 70°F, alligators stop feeding entirely.
- Swim where others are swimming, and do not swim alone. The combined cacophony of a group of swimmers deters alligators.
If you are curious about some of the most popular swimming spots in Louisiana, you can read about the most liked lakes and rivers.
Alligator attacks are rare. They naturally fear humans and don’t view us as food. So most of the time, if humans are around, alligators retreat.
The only danger comes when humans start to feed alligators. This disrupts their natural diet and emboldens alligators to seek out humans for food hand-outs. And, if the human they are approaching does not have food, then the alligator may become aggressive. This happened to a young boy swimming in Lake Maurepas, to which the Livingston Parish Fire District #2 warned against feeding the alligators.
If you do go swimming in a lake or river, scout the area carefully for alligators. And, if you follow the above guidelines and avoid swimming at dusk or in an area with a lot of vegetation, you are likely to avoid any alligator run-ins.
If You Are Attacked…
In the rare event that an alligator comes after you, fight back with intensity! Alligators are smart about their energy use, and if they sense their prey is going to put up a big fight, they generally retreat. Alligators’ sensitive spots are the eyes, the top of the head, or along their jawline, especially the jaw joint.
If you are caught in an alligator bite, you can trigger the gag reflex by pushing sticks or other objects to the back of its throat. When it gags, you take the chance to get out of its grip. Also, get onto dry land as soon as possible. Alligators have less of an advantage there.
After you escape, go to a hospital immediately for treatment and antibiotics, as there are high amounts of bacteria in an alligator’s mouth.
If you follow the safety guidelines and pick popular swimming spots with large groups of people, you can enjoy outdoor swimming just as much as alligators do. You don’t have to fear the water, and knowing the right spots to swim in Louisiana gives you the freedom to swim safely.
The photo featured at the top of this post is © David Louis Tiffany/Shutterstock.com
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