VERO BEACH, Fla. – Say the word crocodile and a lot of people will think of Australia, the Amazon, or even those National Geographic specials that show huge reptiles ambushing wildebeest crossing rivers.
But there are American crocodiles and there have been recent sightings on Sanibel and an eight-foot alligator in Brevard County on the east coast of Florida.
As development continues to expand in the Sunshine State, more sightings are likely. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimated that the number of Florida alligators has increased to between 1,500 and 2,000 adults, down from an estimate of 300 in 1975.
The Florida population of this native species is listed as threatened by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
With increasing numbers of alligators in areas where people live, Florida is experiencing an increasing number of complaints about nuisance alligators.
Here are some answers to questions about the American alligator.
Alligators have been reported as far north as Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on the west coast of Florida to Brevard county on the east coast.
While they are found primarily along coasts in brackish and saltwater habitats, including mangrove-fringed ponds and streams, Florida’s canal system can tempt them to move farther inland, and they have been seen in habitats of freshwater, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife.
Are American crocodiles aggressive?
American crocodiles are considered shy and reclusive.
Since crocodiles are cold-blooded, they can be seen warming up by basking in the sun. If startled, they will quickly (and noisily) enter the water, indicating that they were frightened. Crocodiles normally enter the water silently.
Crocodiles can also be seen basking in the sun with their mouths open while regulating their body temperature or moving between warm and cold areas in the water.
How do you tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?
Here are some of the main differences between an American crocodile and the more numerous American alligator:
grayish green color
Fourth tooth in the lower jaw exposed when the mouth is closed
narrow conical snout
The young are light with dark stripes.
Only upper teeth exposed when the mouth is closed
Broad, rounded muzzle
The young are dark with yellow stripes.
What do crocodiles eat?
Crocodiles eat almost anything that moves and some things that don’t. The bigger the crocodiles, the bigger their prey, according to the University of Florida.
Natural prey for crocodiles include fish, reptiles, birds, and small mammals.
Animals that resemble their natural prey, such as dogs and cats, are more susceptible to being bitten by crocodiles when they are in or near water.
How to stay safe around an alligator
The presence of an alligator is not of immediate concern, the FWC said. Often the best course of action is to leave the alligator alone.
People can safely coexist with crocodiles by following these tips:
Swim only in designated swimming areas.
Swim alone during the day. Crocodiles are most active between dusk and dawn.
Do not allow pets to swim, exercise, or drink water that may contain crocodiles, as they closely resemble natural crocodile prey. Always keep pets a safe distance from water.
Use fences or other barriers to separate your pets and family members from alligators.
Leave the crocodiles alone. State and federal laws prohibit killing, harassing, or possessing alligators.
When observing or photographing crocodiles, always keep a safe distance from them.
Never feed the crocodiles, it’s illegal. When feeding, crocodiles can get used to people and are more likely to become a nuisance.
Let others know that feeding crocodiles is illegal and can create problems for people enjoying themselves in or near the water.
Dispose of fish scraps only in designated waste containers. Disposing of leftovers in the water can attract crocodiles.
Feeding other aquatic wildlife such as ducks, fish, and turtles can also attract crocodiles by attracting potential prey animals.
What do you do if you see or are concerned about a crocodile?
People concerned about a gator should call FWC at 866-392-4286 (866-FWC-GATOR).
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