Gator Guide: Are There REALLY Alligators in Sarasota, FL?

Before you visit the city or decide to move to the area, you might wonder, are there alligators in Sarasota, FL? After all, your vacation or new home won’t be very enjoyable if you need an unexpected trip to the ER after suffering an alligator bite!

Alligators might inhabit virtually any freshwater or saltwater body of water in Sarasota, although most gators that make their way inland are too small to pose a serious threat to humans and are not typically dangerous if left alone. Moreover, most gators are not found in salt water because they don’t tolerate it well.

alligator in the water sarasota

While it’s vital that you exercise caution around alligators in Sarasota, note that Florida averages only 7 alligator bites serious enough to warrant medical treatment per year, according to the Herald Tribune. Deaths due to alligator attacks are also very rare, and the state of Florida will remove nuisance alligators as needed, to ensure resident and visitor safety as much as possible.

Knowing a few basic facts about alligators, including when they’re most active in searching for food, can keep you and your family safe. This vital information will ensure nothing interrupts your relaxing vacation or detracts from your move to the beautiful city of Sarasota!

Staying Safe Around Alligators in Sarasota, FL

Did you know that there are an estimated 1.25 million alligators in Florida? While that might seem like an overwhelming number, note that there are some 21.5 million people in the state, so human residents far outnumber the gators! Alligators also aren’t inherently dangerous to humans; you’re actually more likely to be struck by lightning in Florida than attacked by an alligator.

While it’s not unusual to spot an alligator in Florida, gators do tend to stay in the water as much as possible and typically ignore humans, if they’re left alone. Most are also too small to pose a threat to adult humans, as said, and will easily find food sources in rivers and lakes so that they don’t need to go on land and “hunt” for prey. To ensure you enjoy your time in Sarasota, note a few added tips about alligator safety when in the water or on land.

Note “No Swimming” Signs and Other Warning Signs

Most water bodies easily inhabited by alligators will have a “no swimming, alligators present” or other such warning sign; if you see such a sign, stay out of and even away from the water! Gators are very skilled at hiding just under the water’s surface or along vegetation growing near the water, so don’t assume that the water is safe just because you can’t see any alligators.

Also, note that alligators will search for a food source along the edge of a water body, and are very responsive to splashing and movement. If you see a “no swimming, alligators present” sign, or any warning that alligators might be in the area, use caution even when on the water’s edge. Walking in the water or allowing animals to splash in it can attract those alligators to what they see as a food source.

You should also remember this caution against splashing when boating or kayaking! Keep your hands and feet inside the boat at all times and never allow your children or pets to jump in the water and swim, unless the area is monitored closely for safety.

Know When & Where to Swim in Sarasota

If you do want to enjoy the water but are worried about alligators, swim only in the ocean, as alligators don’t thrive in saltwater and stay in freshwater or salt/freshwater bodies. You might also swim only where lifeguards are present, as they are typically trained to monitor the water, not just for struggling swimmers, but for alligators, sharks, and other dangerous creatures. They can also render aid if you should encounter an alligator and are one of the rare Floridians to get bit!

Also, note that alligators tend to relax in areas of the water covered in vegetation, to keep themselves cool and search for easy prey. If you do swim in open water, avoid areas thick with seaweed and mangroves.

Alligators are also most active at night when it’s cooler outside, so use extra caution when swimming after dark. When the weather warms up, alligator metabolism also speeds up so that they start looking for food more actively, so use extra caution during late spring and summer.

Don’t Feed the Gators!

Feeding alligators can attract them to your presence, and remember that their jaws are larger and more powerful than humans might realize; while snapping at a bit of raw fish, for example, an alligator can easily latch onto your hand or arm. Those jaws are also incredibly strong and can cause severe damage very quickly and easily.

Even if you want to see an alligator up close, avoid leaving food scraps out where they’re located, as alligators can move more quickly than many humans realize, at least for short distances. Don’t assume you’ll get an entertaining show of alligators taking your treat and then leaving!

Leaving food scraps out can also attract more alligators to one spot, creating a nuisance and danger for other people and animals. Ensure you contain your trash securely, especially food scraps and items that attract alligators such as fish and dog treats.

Be Mindful of Pets and Small Children

Full-grown humans are typically too large for alligators to see as a food source, but they might attack pets and small children! Never let your children or pets play unattended around a lake, river, stream, or small pond. The smaller the pet, the more likely it is that an alligator will see them as a viable food source, so exercise caution and monitor your children and pets when near any water’s edge.

While alligators also don’t tend to go very far inland looking for food, they will sometimes make their way into a residential yard, and especially if that space is near a water body. To keep your family safe, never let your young children or small dogs play outside unattended.

A homeowner should also invest in a sturdy, solid-panel fence, at least five feet tall. Alligators are good climbers but use their tails to propel them as they climb, so they typically cannot manage heights taller than they are long, usually no more than four or five feet. They can also force their way through mesh or chain link fences but can’t typically break solid panel fencing. If your fence is wood, vinyl, plastic, glass, or another strong material, and at least five feet tall with no space under it for alligators to get through, your property should be safe.

Just Leave the Alligators Alone

Alligators are actually very shy creatures and tend to avoid humans as much as possible. While they might respond to splashing or other movement in the water, assuming it’s a food source, alligators are not necessarily aggressive and not known to seek out and attack humans or animals without reason.

However, an alligator will defend itself from what it perceives as an attack, either with its jaws or tail! An alligator’s tail usually accounts for about half its length and is very muscular and strong, able to inflict a serious blow to a human. If you should see an alligator in the water or on land, it’s best to avoid it, ensuring you stay far enough away from its jaw and tail so it cannot reach you with either one!

If you’re on land and an alligator should start coming toward you, run in a straight line as fast as possible; do not zigzag as you run, as alligators can also run in a diagonal pattern! Keep running as long as possible; while alligators are somewhat fast, they also tire easily and will typically abandon a chase after just a few quick minutes.

While it’s very unlikely that you would ever be attacked by an alligator, if this does happen, fight back! Never play dead with an alligator as this won’t repel them in any way. Instead, attack the sensitive snout and eyes repeatedly and until they loosen their jaws, and then try to run away as quickly as possible.

Florida residents and visitors should also alert emergency services or animal control if an alligator might be a nuisance or pose a danger to others. For instance, you might see an alligator attempting to cross a busy street, which can cause traffic hazards and accidents! You can also alert animal control if you see a large alligator in a residential area, away from a water body; emergency services can assess the situation and remove the gator to another area, if needed.

Where In Florida Are the Most Alligators?

Whether you want to see alligators or ensure you avoid them as much as possible, there are a few areas in Florida where they tend to congregate the most. The most nearby place to find alligators would be Myakka State Park. Further out, Lake George, in northwest Florida, is usually home to over 2000 alligators at any one time! Lake Kissimmee, in the Orlando area, also has about 2000 alligators, and numerous gators are also always present in the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, in the western everglades.

Are There Alligators in Little Sarasota Bay?

Since alligators exist in every freshwater and salt/freshwater body in Florida, you can count on some alligators being present in Little Sarasota Bay! The bay is fed by freshwater streams flowing from canals connected to the bay, so even though it might have a higher concentration of saltwater than freshwater, it is habitable to alligators.

Also, note that alligators prefer freshwater lakes and rivers but can tolerate saltwater for several hours or even for a few days, if needed. So, an alligator might not spend much time in Little Sarasota Bay, but might follow a canal or stream that empties into the bay and then use it as a “connector” to another stream or canal. If you’re planning on swimming or kayaking around the bay, use caution and assume alligators are present.

Is It Safe to Swim With Alligators?

If you’re swimming in a pond or lake and see an alligator on shore suddenly slip into the water, don’t panic! It’s more likely that the alligator is moving to an area where it feels safe rather than coming to attack you. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s safe to swim with alligators or that they will never attack a human for any reason.

What to do if you see an alligator while swimming?

If you should see alligators in the water while swimming, it’s best to leave the area and avoid the risk of an attack.  Swim slowly and carefully away from the gator, to avoid splashing the water as much as possible, as splashing and other such movements might only attract them to your presence.

Also, never try to corner an alligator or “shoo” it away; if an alligator feels threatened, or if a female alligator thinks that her eggs are threatened, it will try to defend itself by attacking. Try to “shoo” away an alligator can also make it think that you’re injured and therefore easy prey, making it even more likely to attack!

What to do if you see alligator eggs?

If you should come across a nest of alligator eggs, don’t get close or disturb it, even if you don’t see the mother present. Female alligators are very good at hiding in vegetation or under the water’s surface, looking for food or just resting. The female could be very close by without you realizing it; if she should think you are a threat to the eggs, she is likely to attack.

How Do You Know If a Lake Has Alligators?

While you might err on the side of caution and assume that all inland lakes around the Sarasota area have alligators, you can also check the sides of a water body for indentations about the size of alligator feet. Also, check for “slides” or smooth areas of dirt or mud leading to the water, created by alligators when they push themselves into the lake.

During summer months, alligators build their nests and lay eggs. These nests can be from two to four feet tall, making them very easy to spot! If you should spot a nest, even if it’s empty currently, leave it alone in case the female is nearby, as said.

It Is Illegal in Florida to Harass Alligators!

The state of Florida protects many wildlife species from harassment, and that includes alligators! Alligators are an important part of the state’s ecosystem and, as living creatures, they also deserve protection from unwarranted abuse.

In Florida, it is illegal to harass or otherwise antagonize alligators, for any reason other than trying to fend off an attack. This includes throwing items at alligators or injuring them without cause.

It’s also illegal to kill alligators on your own, even if they’re on your property. If you’re concerned about an alligator in any location, call animal control services, as said, and allow them to deal with it properly and safely. If you have a nuisance gator call the Nuisance Alligator Hotline at 866-FWC-GATOR (866-392-4286). Generally, an alligator is only considered a problem if it is 4+ feet in length or poses a threat to those in the area.

Hopefully this blog answered the question, are there alligators in Sarasota, FL, and helped you better understand the low risk of an alligator attack while in the city! As long as you use common sense and mind a few simple precautions, and leave alligators alone, they will typically leave you alone as well so you can enjoy a swim or lakeside picnic without worry. Check out more from Sarasota Local Blogger.