Did you know that between 1948 and 2004, 376 injuries and 15 fatalities have resulted from alligator attacks in the United States? Florida alone reported 14 fatalities and 334 injuries related to alligator attacks, making it the alligator mecca of the United States. Although alligator attacks are few and far between on an annual basis, alligators are still creatures that people should be wary of. Provocation of alligators is never a good idea, and people should always obey signs prohibiting fishing, swimming, and boating in waters where alligators might be present. Overall, alligator awareness is important to civilian safety, and discovering the fatal attacks that happened in 2022 will surely make people cautious around these formidable creatures.
Background on Alligators
Alligators are large reptiles with a reputation for being aggressive and dangerous. Alligators that live in the wild can live up to 50 years. Females measure approximately 8.2 feet in length while male alligators average a length of 11.2 feet. Although, some males have been recorded to be 16 feet long and weigh a little less than 1,000 pounds. A quality unique to alligators is that they are ectothermic. Ectothermic reptiles are attracted to warmer temperatures, which cause them to be active. On the other hand, cooler temperatures cause alligators to become dormant.
Diet of alligators includes fish, birds, frogs, mammals, and other animals that live in or near their habitat. Overall, though, alligators are carnivores, making them vicious hunters. They have sharp teeth and a strong bite that aids them in catching and killing prey.
Alligators mainly reside in the southernmost portion of the United States along the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. States like Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana, and Georgia are homes for alligators and have recorded several human-alligator encounters over the years. Alligator populations in Florida have been estimated to number over 1.5 million, and 17,000 nuisance complaints relating to alligators are called in every year in this state.
In 1967, alligators were considered an endangered species due to the prevalence of alligator hunting during the 1900s. The government began to implement regulations to protect the species, and the population eventually increased to a stable level. Therefore, in 1987, alligators were no longer considered endangered. However, conservation efforts and population increase did not ward off complaints concerning alligators and interactions between alligators and humans. In fact, as people began to move into alligator territory, problems between humans and alligators only increased.
The Major Alligator Attacks of 2022
On May 31, a man named Sean McGuinness was killed viciously by an alligator in Largo, Florida. McGuinness was known for searching throughout Taylor Lake for Frisbee golf discs, hoping to resell the discs that he found. Unfortunately, he lost three limbs to an alligator during his final disc-searching adventure, and his body was found by an unsuspecting civilian the next morning. Friends of McGuinness claimed that he knew the risk he was taking and that it didn’t seem to bother him. Following his death, two suspect alligators in Taylor Lake were caught and killed. However, the alligators were discovered to not have been involved in the death of McGuinness.
Within one month of the McGuinness attack, another man passed away during an alligator attack in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. On June 24, Michael Burstein, who was 75 years old, was innocently standing by a pond when an alligator lurched from the water and pulled him under. It is likely that Burstein drowned during the attack.
On July 15, 80-year-old Rose Marie Wiegand fell into a pond, which was infested with alligators, close to her home. Two alligators noticed Wiegand when she was splashing around in order to avoid drowning. Thus, her actions alerted the alligators of her presence, and they quickly swam up to her and attacked her. Neighbors, friends, and family of Wiegand described her as friendly, caring, and nice to those around her. The alligators that attacked Wiegand were promptly removed from the pond, and they measured over 7.5 feet in length.
Completing a summer-long terror of alligator attacks was Nancy Becker, who was 88 years old and lived in a senior living facility in Bluffton, South Carolina. Becker had been tending to her garden when she fell into a pond. Her body was found being guarded by her killer; the alligator had taken her corpse hostage after the attack. The alligator was nine feet and eight inches long, and it took approximately two hours to take back Becker’s body from the beast. Eventually, the Department of Natural Resources captured and killed the alligator.
General Information on Alligator Attacks
Many alligator attacks are the result of provocation. For instance, 17.4% of alligator attacks in the state of Florida occurred because people attempted to capture or observe alligators up close in a way that threatened these creatures. While this percentage may seem low, it’s the highest percentage of any single category relating to alligator attacks. Other categories include swimming, fishing, retrieving golf balls, and many others.
The majority of alligator attacks occur during the summer months between June and August, as alligators are most active during this time. Furthermore, time of attack is most likely to occur between the hours of 12:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. The fewest number of attacks occur between 12:00 a.m. and 6:00 a.m. Most victims of alligator attacks are male, and the age of victims ranges between two years old and 83 years old in the state of Florida.
If a person is not killed during an alligator attack, they are likely to face serious consequences following the event. Deformity, sepsis, and various infections can plague a survivor of an alligator attack. These complications can lead to amputation or other life-altering and chronic problems.
While Florida has reported 334 injuries from alligator attacks over several decades up to 2004, annual alligator attacks are infrequent. The state of Florida averages eight unprovoked alligator bites per year as of 2021. More so, the chance of being critically injured from an alligator attack is one in 3.1 million.
Furthermore, alligators do not aim to attack humans. In most cases, alligators are afraid of humans and want nothing to do with them. Alligators that are small will usually only bite a human once of they feel threatened. Attacks that result in serious injury or fatality are usually committed by alligators that measure over eight feet in length. Female alligators are more likely to attack if they feel that a human is threatening their children.
Many attacks are a result of alligators being conditioned to humans because people have fed them. While feeding an alligator may seem like a gesture of good will, it’s an action that people should abstain from doing. Feeding alligators makes these creatures believe that humans are a source of food. In this way, alligators will not fear people but become aggressive with them in search of sustenance. If a person cannot deliver food to an alligator, the person becomes the food themselves.
Overall, though, the main contributor for an increase in alligator attacks stems from human encroachment into alligator habitats. As people begin to develop natural areas that include a high alligator presence, more alligator attacks are likely to occur. For instance, a study published by the Wilderness Medical Society described how the number of nuisance complaints called in to local law enforcement and animal control concerning alligator presence increased alongside an increase in human population near alligator habitats.
Therefore, if people leave alligators alone, alligators are less likely to attack and will leave people alone. When people begin to invade alligator habitats, alligator attacks are more likely to occur. In this way, environmental consciousness and habitat awareness and protection is crucial in decreasing the number of annual alligator attacks. If people fear alligators and potential attacks, they shouldn’t live near them.
- Alligator Attacks: Do Alligators Eat People?
- Are Alligators Dinosaurs?
- Florida’s Alligator Infested Lakes: Why Alligators Thrive in Lake George
The photo featured at the top of this post is © Thierry Eidenweil/Shutterstock.com
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
How frequent are alligator attacks?
Alligator attacks are not frequent. Florida has the highest population of alligators in the United States and experiences eight unprovoked alligator bites per year.
What is the average size of an alligator?
Females typically grow to be 8.2 feet long, and males average a length of 11.2 feet.
Are alligators dangerous?
Alligators can be dangerous, especially if they are fed or threatened by humans.
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- Kristin Nelson, Available here: https://www.wmbfnews.com/2022/06/27/coroners-office-75-year-old-man-killed-alligator-attack-myrtle-beach-area/
- Elsa Buchanan, Available here: https://www.the-sun.com/news/5811265/woman-killed-two-alligators-gruesome-details/
- Snejana Farberov, Available here: https://nypost.com/2022/08/16/alligator-kills-88-year-old-south-carolina-woman/
- Wikipedia, Available here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_fatal_alligator_attacks_in_the_United_States
- Ricky L. Langley, MD, MPH, Available here: https://www.wemjournal.org/article/S1080-6032(05)70375-6/fulltext