For every 20 people in Florida, there is at least one alligator. Florida has a population of more than 21 million people, but it also has more than 1.3 million alligators. And if the reptiles’ large population wasn’t worrisome enough, their attraction to roadways will be. Alligators enjoy Florida’s tar roads, as they like sunbathing on the hot surface.
Driving in areas where alligators are pedestrians is somewhat of a learned skill. Whether you’re a resident or a tourist, here are five things you should know about driving through Florida’s “Alligator Alley,” an 80-mile stretch of I-75 that runs from Naples to Fort Lauderdale, FL.
Tip #1 - Keep Your Distance if You Encounter an Alligator on the Road
Never approach an alligator whether it’s on the side of the road or floating down a river. Stay at least 30 feet away from an alligator if you encounter one nearby or crossing the road.
“If you encounter an alligator, keep a safe distance away from it,” says Adam Rosenblatt, an assistant professor at University of North Florida’s Biology Department. While alligators appear to be moving slowly on land, they can move “remarkably quick when they want to,” he adds. Alligators are known to strike to either side of it’s head, not just straight on.
Tip #2 - Stay Away From Alligator Nests Whenever Possible
Alligators may be cold-blooded, but they show warm affection for their unborn offspring. Alligator nests look like large piles of dirt and vegetation and are most often seen throughout the spring and summer.
“Nesting female alligators frequently guard their nests, sometimes placing themselves near the nest but in a spot where you can’t see them, and if you get too close she is likely to try and protect her eggs,” Rosenblatt says.
And if your plan is to snag an alligator egg, think again. There are laws in place since 1973 that make it illegal to take, transport, possess or sell alligator eggs. It’s a felony for anyone who isn’t licensed to take and handle alligator eggs.
Tip #3 - Never Feed the Alligators
In Florida there are two wildlife rules the locals always follow: never feed the seagulls and never feed alligators. The latter is actually against Florida law. There is a very good reason why it’s illegal to feed a wild alligator. Rosenblatt explains that, “the last thing we need is a population of gators that associates humans with an easy meal.”
Not only can feeding an alligator put you in harm’s way, but it can teach the alligator to approach people. It’s always best when alligators choose to keep a safe distance from their human counterparts.
If you do decide to feed an alligator that you come across in the wild be prepared to pay a $150 fine and spend up to 30 days in jail.
Tip #4 - When an Alligator is in the Road Stop Quickly but Avoid Swerving
See an alligator on the road blocking your path? The last thing you want to do is treat it like a living speed bump. The safer option is to stop as quickly as you can and avoid swerving. Plus, injuring or killing an alligator is punishable by law in Florida and carries a fine of up to $2,500 and 30 days in jail.
“Running over an alligator can be deadly for the alligator and the driver alike,” says Rosenblatt. If the alligator is crossing the road, wait for it to finish and then start on your way. But if it is lying in the middle of the road not moving or appearing to have no intention of moving, drive around it if there is room and no oncoming traffic.
Tip #5 - Always Stay in Your Car if You Encounter an Alligator on the Road
Alligators have been known to attack cars they feel are too close, so a person coming out of a vehicle is fair game in the minds of gators. Rosenblatt advises that drivers stay in their vehicle and call the state’s nuisance alligator hotline at 866-392-4286. A trained professional from the Statewide Nuisance Alligator Program (SNAP) will come to move the alligator from the road if you can’t safely drive around it. This also applies to visibly injured or sick alligators, regardless of whether a vehicle is involved.
The South Florida Wildlife Center, an affiliate of the Humane Society of the United States, notes that drivers can also contact their local police department, wildlife rehabilitation center, animal control agency or Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) office for assistance.
Don’t wait until you’re mid-trip to learn proper driving techniques. Test your skills with a defensive driving course or by trying our practice permit tests. That way, you can be prepared for whatever Florida’s Alligator Alley throws your way.
*This article was updated on 9/24/2020
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