It was on a recent trip that a conversation happened that inspired this post.
I was sitting at a local Starbucks, wasting time, when I heard two people talk the alligator attack in Orlando earlier this month. One of them wondered out loud what an alligator was doing up in the Orlando area. The other one chimed in, it was probably someone pet.
“It’s Florida, it’s a body of fresh water, there is going to be a gator in it,” I said. Both people looked confused, and the one said, “But it’s up in Orlando, alligator don’t live there it isn’t a swamp.”
I said again, “It’s Florida, it’s a body of fresh water, there is going to be a gator,”
The two of them looked at me oddly, and I said to them. “You are not from Florida are you?”
Wasn’t too surprise when the answer was no.
Living in what some would consider paradise, there are four things that stop Florida from being perfect. Flying cockroaches, mosquitoes, hurricanes, and gators, in that order.
Since gators don’t rank very high on a Floridian scale on what we considered dangerous or unpleasant, it is a wondered that most people think we are nuts when it comes to our laissez-faire attitude about gators. The truth is, we learn to live with them.
So I figured I should let you on to a couple of gator secrets that will make your next trip to the Sunshine state, a safe one.
Tip 1: The minutes you cross the state board; YOU ARE IN GATOR COUNTRY!
Jacksonville – Gator Country
Orlando – Gator Country
Tampa- Gator Country
Key West- Gator Country
Miami – Gator Country
St. Petersburg – Gator Country
Any town, village, retirement community, tourist trip, small town, farm – Gator country
Gainesville – The capital of Gator Country.
Tip 2: Floridians have a love/hate relationship with the gator
Think about it, when you’re from Florida, you are either a Cane, a Nole or Gator. That is how we Floridian classifies ourselves.
We don’t think it is strange to see a gator out on the golf course or lounging by the side of the road. And we usually have one news story a night about a gator in a pool. They are here to stay.
Tip 3: The Gator Test
All you have to do is ask these two questions
- Is the body of water fresh?
- Is the body of water in Florida?
If you answer yes to both of these questions, then there is a gator nearby, in it, or around it. If one of them is no, then it is up to debate whether there is a gator or not.
By the way, a gator cannot be removed until it reaches at least 4 feet. Then they are hard and expensive to catch, so most communities and parks don’t bother until it becomes a nuisance.
Tip 4: Don’t feed them
For some reason tourists think it is a good idea to feed them. But what tourist don’t realize is that alligators have a natural fear of us, and by feeding them they start associating us with food. And that is never good.
When they lose that natural fear of humans and decided that they are going to get lunch from us one way or another, then it becomes a problem. If you happened to see one out in the wild, take a picture of it, but don’t give it your ham sandwich.
There is enough wildlife in Florida that our gator population will not go hungry.
Tip 5: Gators don’t make good pets
One of the funniest (or saddest) thing I read in my grandmother’s diary when she was young, was about a trip to Florida. She talked about how you could buy baby pet gators from the side of the road and her father wouldn’t buy one, because it might eat his prize Kio. Smart man.
I wonder how many gators end up being flush down the toilets are let go in Central Park in the 30s and 40s. Maybe the rumor about alligators in the New York sewer is true.
No, gators aren’t cute, and they don’t like to be cuddled. They just want to be left alone. If you want a gator, stop by one of the local tourist stores and get the cute and cuddly ones that are stuffed with cotton. Less money, fewer headaches, and you wouldn’t lose a limb.
Tip 6: Swimming in fresh water is never a good idea
Growing up in Florida, that was the one thing that was stressed over and over again. Never swim in a fresh body of water, unless you can see the bottom. Gators love to hide in the muck. Most of us will tell you, we even check our pool before diving in, and yes, I have had a gator in my pool before.
I had a hard time swimming in fresh water lakes even when I was in Hawaii. And to the amusement of the locals, I kept asking, “Are you sure there aren’t any gators in there.” They laugh, but when it has been ingrained in you since early childhood, that any fresh water, whether it be here or on an island out in the middle of the Pacific should have a gator in it, you will question it too.
Because the idea of fresh water without a gator just boggles the mind.
Tip 7: Gators are not cold blooded murder
A gator will attack humans for two reasons. Reason one is that we threaten them or their nest in some way. Reason two is that they are hungry and started to associate us with food (thanks a lot tourist).
So as long as you leave a gator alone and don’t feed it, the chances of you get attacked are slim. I have lived here for 30 years, and not once have I been attacked.
Tip 8: If it is salt water, you are probably safe from gators, but sharks are another story.
That is another post for another day.
Tip 9: If you want to see a gator in wild be safe.
Every year, we hear about tourist getting lost or killed out in the Everglades. If you have this desire to see a gator out in the wild, then be safe. Either go to a park that offers airboat rides, or go to a place where gators are kept at a safe distance.
I encourage everyone who visits Florida to take an airboat ride.
Tip 10: Gator meat
Yes, you can eat gator and yes, it kind of taste like chicken. There are some bars and local hangouts that serve fresh gator meat. Ask a local; they can probably point you in a direction to one the many places in Florida to get gator tail or gator meat.
Tip 12: Keep small, medium and large kids and dogs away from a body of fresh water.
Gators love a small prey, whether it be a duck, a turtle or your dog. It is never a good idea to let either your kids or your dog go swimming in a fresh body of water that isn’t either a pool or a natural spring (it’s too cold for a gator).
Most Floridians know someone who lost a dog to a gator
So there you have it, a Floridian guide to being safe around gators. To recap, don’t go near one, assume any body of fresh water in Florida has a gator in it, don’t feed it and don’t try to make it a pet.
I hope your next trip to Florida is a happy and safe one.