While alligators can attack your kayak, the reality is they probably won’t. Alligators are extremely powerful creatures but will only attack if they feel threatened or if they see you as food. Luckily, kayakers are usually not perceived as a threat. Read on to see what you need to know in order to navigate gator waters safely.
Know the Difference: Alligator vs Crocodile
See ya later alligator, or is it in a while crocodile? While these two prehistoric reptiles may look very similar, it’s worth knowing how and why they differ. Especially if you plan on kayaking in their waters.
Crocodiles and alligators are amazing beasts. Their species has roamed the Earth for over 85 million years. Their essence alone makes them the closest thing to dinosaurs humans will ever encounter.
Both belong to the Crocodylia scientific order, but crocodiles are from the family Crocodylidae while alligators belong to the family Alligatoradae.
Where Do Crocodiles and Alligators Live?
Where they live is also a good way to tell the difference between crocodiles and alligators. Alligators are found in freshwater environments while crocodiles can live in both saltwater and freshwater.
Crocodiles live all across the globe including the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australia. Alligators on the other hand are only found in the Americas. In North America, you will find gators all along the Gulf states including Mississippi, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and of course, Alabama, Florida.
The Everglades in southern Florida is the only place on Earth where you will find both alligators and crocodiles coexisting.
Physical Difference Between Crocodiles and Alligators.
There are also some physical differences you can look for in order to tell the difference between the two.
- Alligators have an overbite. Their bottom jaw line fits underneath their top row of teeth. You’ll often see that gator’s bottom teeth are completely concealed when their jaws are closed.
- Alligators also tend to have a more rounded, U shaped snout. Crocodiles on the other hand will usually have a V shaped snout that is much longer.
- Alligators can grow up to anywhere from 11 to 15 feet while gators can grow up to 15 and even 17 feet.
Although crocs and gators have slight physical differences, they are both powerful creatures. Both can reach massive weights and average a stunning 500 pounds.
On land, they can both reach speeds of up to 11 MPH. Underwater, they are incredibly stealthy and can detect threats through their excellent sense of sight and smell. They can also feel vibrations in the water that alert them of a possible threat coming their way.
If you’re kayaking with gators, they will see your way before you ever see them. Still, kayaking with gators and crocs is relatively safe. As the old saying goes, if you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
What Is Typical Alligator Behavior?
While these apex predators are no doubt scary looking, with their sharp teeth and unexpected agility, alligators are actually pretty lazy reptiles. They’d much rather lounge in the sun or cool down in the water than to go out and actively attack humans.
For such massive creatures, gators have brains the size of half a tablespoon. In a sense, gators are predictable creatures as they prefer to rest, mate, and attack for food whenever hunger strikes.
If a gator is going to attack your kayak, it’s either because it sees you as a threat or it’s hungry. They literally don’t have the brain capacity to attack just ‘cause they feel like it.
The good news is, you’ve got a really low chance of getting attacked by a gator if you kayak in their waters, one in 3.2 million to be exact. Still, it can be helpful to know what is typically alligator behavior and what to look out for in order to stay safe.
For the most part, gators will keep to themselves and only attack when they feel threatened. As a kayaker, it’s not only possible, but it’s a really neat experience to go kayaking in a gator’s territory. Before you paddle out though, you’ll need to know about typical alligator behavior in order to assess your danger level.
When Are Alligators Most Active?
Gators are most active during the hours between dusk and dawn. Much like other nocturnal creatures, alligators like to venture out during the nighttime hours. Despite this, you’ll still likely see alligators out and about if you go kayaking in gator territory.
Because gators are cold blooded creatures, they cannot regulate their own temperature. When they need to cool down, which they often do during the hot summer months, they will sink into the water. Conversely, when it’s time to warm up, they will lie on the banks of the water and soak up the sun.
When they’re in the water, they can hold their breath for up to an hour. If they need to get a breath, they will surface with only their snout before they sink back down again. It’s typical for alligators to move from land to water only when they need to regulate their temperature.
Outside of mating and nesting season, gators tend to be rather lazy and almost statue like. If you kayak past a gator that is standing still, keep on paddling and don’t pay them much mind.
As you kayak through gator territory, it’s common to see gators slip into the water from the bank as you approach. This is because gators see humans as just as much a threat as we see them.
By slipping into the water, the gator is most likely seeking out safety as they make their way to the river bottom (they’re not entering the water to pursue you, don’t worry). Once you, the threat, paddles away, only then might they resurface.
Alligators that have not encountered humans are more likely to dart into the water quicker. While this can be alarming to a kayaker, it should not be seen as aggressive behavior. For gators that have encountered humans before, they may take their time in assessing you first before they slip under the water.
When Are Alligators Most Aggressive?
There are two main points throughout the year when alligators are likely to be aggressive. The first is during their mating season, and the second is during their nesting season.
Alligators in the southern part of America will begin to mate at the start of spring. Mating will continue through May and June. After June, female alligators begin nesting.
Nesting season is an extremely important time to pay attention to gator activity. This is because gator behavior patterns change as you see more young alligators darting in and out of the water.
Typical Alligator Behaviors During Mating Season
During mating season, alligators experience a surge in hormones in order to find a partner to mate with. This surge in hormones causes male adult alligators to be aggressive.
As they mate, adult gators will make their presence known in order to stand out to a female. They’ll do this by bellowing and even fighting off other alligators that may come on their turf. During mating season, male gators become extremely territorial and will not back down from a fight.
If you kayak during mating season and you hear splashes of water around you, this could be a signal that two gators are fighting one another. While it can be exhilarating to witness an alligator attack in its natural habitat, don’t get close!
The adrenaline a gator might feel while they’re winning a fight can easily cause you to be the next target if you come too close. If you ever come across two gators fighting, this is your que to quietly, yet quickly, paddle in the opposite direction.
You should also keep in mind that during mating season, you probably won’t see gators huddled together in a group the way you would outside of mating season. Every gator is out to find a partner and their behavior patterns change to an “all gator for themselves” mentality.
Typical Alligator Behaviors During Nesting Season
After a male alligator has found its mate, it’s time to nest. When female alligators are getting ready to nest, they create a mound in the water. The mound may be inconspicuous to the untrained eye, but know what to look for and you’ll be able to spot it.
An alligator nest usually consists of branches, wood, and leaves piled over top of each other. The nest can also be underneath low lying branches of overhanging trees. The nest might also be on the bank of the water or in the water itself. If you see an oddly placed mound of debris, this should be your signal that you’re getting close to an alligator’s nest.
Depending on when you’re kayaking during nesting season, you should always count on young alligators being in that nest. Even if you don’t see an alligator nearby, never come close to an alligator nest. The mama alligator may be out of sight, but you can bet it is keeping an eye out on its babies.
During the incubation period which lasts about 65 days, female gators are extremely protective of their eggs. They will attack any creature, or kayaker, that they might deem as a threat. Even after nesting season has passed, if you ever see young alligators, never approach them. While they most certainly are cute and look harmless, they will attack you.
Overall, whether it’s a nest or a group of baby alligators, never get too close. You can count on the momma gator being nearby and she will perceive you as a threat and attack.
Know The Warning Signs
Because alligators are just as afraid of humans as we are of them, they will typically exhibit warning signs before they attack.
Keep Your Ears Open for ‘the Hiss’
The most easily identifiable warning sound is the hiss. Alligators that feel threatened will let out a hiss much like a rattlesnake’s tail before it attacks. If you hear or see an alligator hissing, this is your signal that you need to kayak in the opposite direction.
Do not attempt to go around a hissing alligator, or to go near it. Alligators will see this as a threat and will attack. You are more likely to hear an alligator hiss during mating season as females use this tactic to warn other predators before they attack.
Steer Clear of a Bellowing Alligator
Another classic warning sign to pay attention to is a bellowing alligator. When an alligator bellows, this is a signal that they are declaring their territory. Male alligators will typically bellow during mating season when they are trying to attract a mate.
An alligator bellow is a pretty fascinating thing to watch. The alligator will typically puff up it’s under belly and will lift its head and tail out of the water. As it bellows, it will let out a deep and low pitched rumbling sound. The rumble can be strong enough to make the water around it vibrate.
Hungry Gators Will Clap Their Jaws
An alligator that is getting ready to attack may also visibly clap its jaws together. This should be taken as a visible threat and your clue that you need to move away.
If you feel that the gator is getting ready to attack, use your paddle to hit the side of your kayak and make loud noises to frighten the gator away. It’s helpful to bring along an air horn to scare the gator away.
Other subtle threats to pay attention to is an alligator that is swimming towards you. If an alligator dips its head underneath the water and then reappears closer to you, then it is sniffing you out and assessing you as a threat. Don’t engage, and instead calmly but quickly paddle away in the opposite direction.
In a situation where you feel a gator is swimming towards you and threatening to attack, line your kayak up to face them. Then, paddle away backward quickly. Alligators will see your position as a threatening one and will likely dip under the water and then reemerge and swim in a different direction.
How to Safely Kayak Through Alligator Territory
While this apex predator will undoubtedly attack if it feels threatened, there is a lot you can do to maintain your safety while you are kayaking with alligators. Here are some critical safety tips to follow when you’re out in alligator country.
Don’t Block an Alligator’s Path
Never get in an alligator’s way or block their path. If you see a gator swimming near you, get out of the way. Put distance between yourself and the gator. And as a rule of thumb, always calmly paddle away in the opposite direction.
As you kayak, it can be exciting to see gators in the water with you. Still, you should never paddle towards one. If you are kayaking with a friend, do not circle a gator or corner it. Doing either will make the gator feel threatened and agitated alligators will attack if they feel they can’t escape.
Don’t Bring Pets and Small Children
Kayaking can be such a fun adventure when you bring little ones or pets with you. When you’re out in gator waters, however, it’s best to leave your kiddos and your pup at home.
Dogs and small children are the ideal size for alligator prey. Dogs especially can trigger meal time for gators as they will see your pet as low lying fruit. If a gator feels they can get your pet, they will not hesitate to attack your kayak for it.
Why Feeding The Alligators Is A Bad Idea
Not only is feeding a gator a crime, but it’s an incredibly bad idea. Feeding gators makes them lose their fear of humans, and become comfortable with approaching people. If you feed a gator, you also increase your chances of the gator attacking you.
It’s not typical behavior for a gator to approach you. And if it does, it has likely been fed before by a human. The gator now sees you as a food source, and you’ll need to paddle away from that area.
Abstain from feeding gators because you are putting yourself and other humans that the gator will encounter at risk. Not only that, but a gator that is comfortable with humans will typically need to be put down as well.
What To Do When An Alligator Approaches Your Kayak?
If you see an alligator swimming towards you, the first step is to stay calm. Staying calm will allow you to react level headed in order to remove yourself from the situation.
If you see an alligator making its way towards you, it likely means they’re not threatened by you because they’ve had a previous interaction with humans. It could also mean they are gearing up to attack. Either way, you need to pose yourself as a threat.
It’s important to carry an air horn with you whenever you kayak in gator waters. An air horn will help you scare away a gator because they will perceive the loud noise as a threat. If you don’t have one, bang on the side of your kayak until the gator swims away or until you have a chance to paddle away.
If an alligator does charge or attack you, don’t get in the water. Stay in your kayak and use your paddle to fight them off. As you defend yourself, continue moving backward so that you can remove yourself from their territory.
Kayak Fishing in Alligator Territory
Fishing in kayak waters can be dangerous if you do not know what you’re doing. Alligators keep their eyes and ears open for fish splashing on the surface of the water because it’s an easy meal. Unfortunately, this means any fish you catch can easily draw the attention of alligators.
The key to safely fishing in alligator territory is staying alert and using common sense. Alligators know you are on the water and if you are fishing, they will pay attention to the moments where they can swoop in and grab your catch.
When you get a hook, try to reel in your catch slowly. Doing so will limit the commotion on the surface of the water. It can help to keep your rod close to the water as well when you reel them in. As the fish starts to break the surface, you can use a net to help you get your catch and minimize splashing.
Don’t unhook your fish over the water. Instead, bring your fish inside the kayak and unhook it there. This will limit the chance a gator tries to come over under your kayak and snatch it. Once your fish is unhooked, store it away in your cooler so it’s out of sight.
Never hang or store your fish over the edge of your kayak. This is like baiting a gator and will unnecessarily draw them to your kayak.
Tips To Stay Safe
If you take anything away from this kayaking with gators guide, let it be these following tips. Use these common sense practices to keep safe while you’re kayaking with gators.
1. Never Feed Alligators
As I’ve mentioned several times already, never feed a gator. This puts you and future humans that the gator encounters in unnecessary danger. Alligators are naturally afraid of humans, and if you feed them you are training them to lose that fear.
In states like Florida where alligators coexist with humans, feeding one carries with it a misdemeanor fine. Keep yourself and the gator safe by abstaining from feeding them at all costs.
2. Don’t Corner Gators
Give gators the freedom to roam. Don’t corner them, intentionally go near them, or throw objects at them. If they feel threatened, they will attack you.
3. Maintain a Healthy Distance
As you kayak, try to stay toward the middle of the river or creek. This will give you room to adjust your direction if you see yourself going near a gator.
Gators are aware that you are in the water with them, and because they are just as afraid of you as you are of them, they will not approach you unprovoked. Maintaining a generous distance of about 15 feet to a minimum is the best way to share the water and stay safe.
4. Leave ‘Em Be During Mating Season
Alligator attacks happen when alligators are at their most aggressive state. For adult gators, this tends to be during mating season. For females, it’s during nesting season.
It can be helpful to know an alligator’s mating and nesting season for your area. States like Florida, South Carolina, and Texas may have varying seasons that are weeks within one another.
Knowing when the gators in your area mate and nest will allow you to be extra vigilant when you’re out on the water. It can be best to avoid alligator waters all together during their mating season too.
5. Beware of the ‘Hiss’
Female alligators will protect their young and defend them from threats by letting out a distinctive hiss. When you hear this hiss, it’s time for you to go. Don’t crowd a hissing alligator or go near it. Back peddle slowly and then keep your distance.
6. Carry an Air Horn
If you find yourself crossing paths with an aggressive alligator, an air horn can help you get away safely. The loud noise will scare the gator away.
Only use a horn if you know an alligator is going to attack you. If you swim upon a group of gators that are displaying visible warning signs, try to stay calm and paddle away. If you see a gator aggressively following you or coming towards you, it might be a good idea to use your horn.
7. Don’t Swim With Gators
Gator infested waters are not the place to jump out of your kayak for a dip! Always stay in your kayak and don’t splash the surface as gators might mistake the noise as food. Never dangle your feet over the edge of your kayak either, as this can encourage a gator to come to take a nibble.
8. Avoid Gator Territory Completely
Gators really are just as afraid of you as you might be of them. Still, if you feel nervous about kayaking with gators, you could simply avoid gator waters all together. There are plenty of gator free water ways for you to enjoy without the intimidation of gators!
Alligators are no doubt aggressive and powerful creatures, but this doesn’t mean we can’t share the water with them. Knowing how to safely navigate gator infested waters is the best way to enjoy your time safely.
While gator attacks do happen, it might ease your mind to know that for the most part, these attacks are really rare. As long as you are respectful of gators, don’t pose a threat, and use common sense, you’ll be able to kayak alongside these creatures just fine.
Have you ever kayaked with gators? Share your experiences in the comments section!