OK, so last year I visited a friend in Florida and told her I HAD to see a wild alligator. She duly took me to several pools in the locale and I saw my wild 'gators, albeit quite dinky ones.
I’m aware of the laws regarding interfering with these creatures, but they shot off like lightning anyway when I aimed my camera at them. I obviously have that stupid curiosity that most Brits have when it comes to “dangerous” animals, namely because there is only the common adder here, and you’d be lucky to ever see one, let alone be in any danger from it.

So, whilst I’m strolling near the edges of this lake/pool, hoping to see a big reptile, my friend is giving me earache, telling me to beware (there were signs about telling of presence of alligators), she was definitely not happy with my curiosity, even though she’s lived there all her life. As far as she was concerned, there was a real danger of me being snaffled by an alligator if I didn’t watch my step.

Now if I were in Australia, or Africa, I’d be very wary of any bodies of water that may harbour crocodiles. If they were known to be in the area, I’d not risk having one launch out and grab me, simple as that. No curiosity, no reckless bravery, I know you don’t mess about where there are crocs.

So why do I think the alligator is not worth worrying about? Do they attack people, like crocs? Is it a more docile temperament that means they don’t attack people, or do they simply not get big enough like Salties? What are the chances of being seriously attacked by an alligator (not if I approach a nest, but just from one seeing me and thinking “Yum yum”)?

My friend sent a pic of a nice 7’ ‘gator strolling down her street the other day after some bad weather they’ve had out there. I have to say, it didn’t look that impressive. A 7’ croc though…I’d be moving house.

List of fatal alligator attacks in the US by decade.

Alligators kill roughly a dozen or so people per decade on average, so they are certainly capable of killing you. Crocs kill more people worldwide, but I don’t know how much of that is due to the aggressiveness of the animal or how much of it is due to other factors. For example, folks living in a poor village in Africa without running water are much more likely to go down to the river to fetch water. Folks who live in South Florida, by comparison, are much more likely to turn on their faucet instead, which obviously involves significantly less risk of animal attack.

Even if crocs are more deadly than gators, your friend was probably right to give you an earful. Alligators do kill.

Alligators aren’t nearly as bad as Crocs. In addition to the fatal attacks referenced above, Crocs will viciously attack the feet, horribly mangling them and rendering them hideous, perforated ugly things that should be shunned in polite society. Alligators have a similar effect, but typically it’s a chest wound that often (though not always) renders the victim kinda douchey.

This kid just lost an arm to an alligator:

Anecdote - when honeymooning in Australia, we took a rainforest tour which included (a) a cruise along a river to observe crocodiles, of which we saw a few, and (b), a trip to a billabong (aka swimming hole) next to the river for a relaxing dip in the water. The billabong was surrounded by signs saying “Danger! Crocodiles! No swimming!” yet the tour guides told us it was perfectly safe to swim in at this time of year. My wife and I declined, even though it was full of tourists and a few locals. So I’d say the willingness of Aussies to swim in crocodile infested water (and throw tourists in as well) may have something to do with their lethality. Plus the fact they’re longer than most cars.

(looks at own shirt) What the deuce! I’ll send my driver over to thrash you soundly!

Salt water crocodiles (the big dangerous crocs) need a water path from the sea to the rivers to get into the billabongs etc. In the dry season there normally isn’t the water path for the crocs to make their way inland. If one does you can be sure that the more common public water holes will be roped off and specific signs posted saying there is a real crocodile threat. Fresh water crocodiles are a lot smaller and you can swim with them in the same way you can swim with a reef shark, that is, respect them, don’t provoke them, and you’ll probably be ok. Generally speaking I’d happily swim in inland areas in the dry season but not the wet season and I’d definitely avoid if a salty had been sighted recently. I’d also be very wary of coastal mangrove areas away from large human populations.

Ah, note I said “though not always”!

Alligators can certainly kill just anyone but they are the stoners of the crocodilian group and don’t often have the motivation to. I grew up with them in Louisiana and we never really worried about swimming in waters were they were common. They don’t usually attack full grown people. Small children and dogs are a bigger worry. I see that all but one of the fatal attacks in the link above are in Florida and none were in Louisiana. I don’t know if that is just because Florida alligators are bigger assholes than those of other states or if the extra population of people and alligators in Florida creates much more likely conditions and probability for an attack.

I was hoping this would link to a clip from “Archer”.

I saw that on the noon news today. That’s enough to convince my I would rather not go swimming with any 'gators.

Many thanks for the replies, I think once again the good old film and tv industry has coloured my view of life - ie. that anything about 7-8’ can be wrestled, punched in the chops and fought off, and the only man-killers are gargantuan specimens with super-intelligence.

It’s bizarre, I have a (probably healthy) trepidation about water, or the things that live in it that might fancy me for dinner, especially abroad. Other than the previously mentioned avoidance of water in Africa (and probably Oz too, but I’ve not been there yet), I can’t seem to swim in the sea for long before I hear that music in my head. You know the music I mean…John Williams’ score. However, the fear just isn’t there when I’m in a place where alligators DO live, it’s disturbing!

My friend did warn me about other creatures to be wary of - water moccasins and snapping turtles, but those I didn’t see. I can’t wait to go back this year…

I loved that episode.

It depends on the species. Nile crocs and Saltwater crocs are the really dangerous ones, partly due to size and partly due to a predilection for large mammals as prey. American crocs occasionally kill people but they are mostly fish-eaters and not nearly as dangerous.

An acquaintance of mine lost an arm to a Nile croc while bathing on a river in the Ituri forest in Zaire at the same place where I had bathed only a couple of weeks earlier. Since then I’ve never considered going into a river or lake in Africa.

Kipling’s “A Ripple Song” seems oddly appropriate.

(I’m pretty sure this is Public Domain by now, if not, mods please redact)