- Flickr / John Spade
On Tuesday night, a 2-year-old was playing near the water at a Disney World resort when an alligator dragged him into the water.
Though the alligator population is on the rise in Florida, deaths caused by alligators are not common.
At most, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has recorded three fatalities in a year (2006 and 2001), but in most years there are few if any deaths. In 2015 there were nine alligator attacks that resulted in a bite, with one death. This is a small number considering that there are an estimated 1.3 million alligators in Florida, where the American alligator population is the largest.
That means alligators are much less deadly than other creatures on earth, though the attack is still alarming.
“People – even small people – are not their typical prey,” Nick Wiley of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission told USA Today. His theory is that the alligator most likely confused the toddler for a dog or raccoon, which are commonly snatched up.
Here’s why alligators attack
- Alligators are scaly carnivores looking for food, especially at night and in the water. Their typical prey is fish, snails, frogs, and other small animals. Alligators under 4 feet in length aren’t considered much of a problem for residents. It’s when they get larger (female gators on average measure 8.2 feet, while males can get up to 11.2 feet on average) that they get to be more of a problem. Alligators often stay underwater, where they can sense movement, Live Science reports. When ready, they lunge at their prey, grabbing onto it and then swallowing it whole (the teeth are there to grab and hold the prey, not for chewing).
The best way to avoid being mistaken for prey? “Just keep in mind that there might be alligators present,” James Perran Ross, a retired professor of wildlife ecology and conservation at the University of Florida told Live Science. “If you think of that, it changes your whole approach.” Avoid the water particularly around dusk and dawn when alligators might be at their most active.