TAMPA, Fla. — Sarah Phinney has showed you parks and trails across the Tampa Bay region since July through her #WalkingClub series. Now, she's getting frequently asked questions in the Walking Club Facebook group answered.
Sarah is taking your concerns and questions about alligators and snakes to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). Use this guide if you’re new to exploring Florida’s outdoors, or just need a refresher!
Alligator safety 101
Alligators inhabit every single county in Florida, so the chance of seeing one (or more) in or around water at a park or preserve is high.
Alligators prefer slow-moving freshwater, but they can be found in saltwater from time to time as well. They are most active between dusk and dawn.
Be aware of your surroundings and keep a safe distance
Resist the temptation to get the perfect close-up shot (or selfie!) to share on social media. Melody Kilborn, FWC SW Region Public Information Director, says it’s best to stay 50-100 feet away from alligators, if possible.
“I know wildlife photography is really popular, especially in this area, but cameras, and even your phone camera, have a pretty good zoom on it so don’t feel like you need to get too close. We don’t encourage people to do that,” she said.
Never feed an alligator
It’s illegal and dangerous! If fed, FWC says alligators can lose their natural sense of wariness and learn to associate people with food.
Keep pets away from the water
Kilborn says small dogs are the size of natural prey for alligators, so there is a chance that an alligator may attempt to take a dog. FWC recommends keeping a dog 10 feet away from the edge of the water.
“Should you find yourself in that position, we do not encourage trying to get in the middle of it because you can be seriously injured, but do call authorities right away,” she said.
What should I do if I’m attacked by an alligator?
The odds of having a bad interaction with an alligator are low. According to FWC data, there were 413 unprovoked bite incidents in Florida between 1948 and 2019. Twenty-five of those people died from their injuries.
In the unlikely event you are attacked, FWC suggests fighting back with as much might and noise as possible. Hitting or kicking the alligator, or poking its eyes, may cause it to release its grip. FWC says when alligators seize prey they can’t easily overpower, they often let go and retreat.
If you are concerned about an alligator, call FWC’s toll-free Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-392-4286. The FWC will dispatch one of its contracted nuisance alligator trappers to resolve the situation.
Snake safety 101
Florida has 44 native species of snakes, only six of which are venomous. Either way, if you see a snake, just stand back and observe it.
“The majority of the time, you are more than likely to come across one that is non-venomous,” said Kilborn. “However, we do not want people to get close to snakes or touch them, especially if you are with your dog.”
According to FWC, even venomous snakes are not particularly dangerous unless they are stepped on or provoked.
Kilborn says you are more likely to see snakes near trails following heavy rain in an effort to sun themselves and retreat from waterlogged areas.
“Those times of the year, you want to be especially careful, but they can be seen at any time of the year,” said Kilborn.
What should I do if I’m bit by a snake?
Kilborn says seeking medical attention should be your top priority.
“If you’re able to identify the snake, that’s great, but don’t try to catch up with the snake or grab the snake or try to contain the snake to try and find out,” she said.
Sarah continues her conversation with FWC next week to discuss wild hogs, bears, vultures and coyotes.
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