Even though alligators have been around for nearly 40 million years, they're still making headlines. In the past week, two Florida teenagers have been victims of alligator attacks, but were able to fend the gators off.
At Keaton Beach near Tallahassee, 15-year-old Kaleb Towles was spearfishing with his grandfather when a 10-foot-long alligator bit him across the chest. The alligator released its grip, and later Towles and his grandfather managed to kill it.
Earlier in the week, 17-year-old Kaleb "Fred" Langdale was swimming near Moore Haven, Fla., when he lost the lower half of his right arm trying to fend off an attack from an 11-foot-long alligator. The teen's quick thinking saved his life.
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During the warmer weather months, alligators becomes more active as their metabolism increases. This time happens to be when alligators mate, making them more aggressive than they would be otherwise. As a result, alligator attacks can increase in frequency during the summer months.
Given how large the alligators were in both cases, both teenagers are fortunate to have survived their attacks. As Julienne Gage reported for Discovery News, between 2000 and 2010, nearly 13 people died as a result of attacks from alligators. Although alligator attacks are less frequent than shark attacks, they're more often fatal. And because of suburban sprawl, encounters between alligators and humans have increased slightly.
So while an alligator attack might be rare, knowing what to do should that unlikely event occur could be life-saving. Growing up in Florida, I remember being told that in the event of an encounter with an aggressive alligator on dry land, the best way to get away from it would be to run along a zig-zag, the thinking being that alligators would attempt to follow but be unable to since their bodies couldn't allow them to manuever quick turns. But is that really true? And what's the best way to survive an attack that takes place in water?
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For starters, if you encounter an alligator on dry land, just run. Zig-zagging would only slow you down, so running in a straight line is the way to go. As Amy Hunter writing for HowStuffWorks.com points out, an alligator's running speed on land tops out at 11 miles per hour. They also can't run for very long, which makes it unlikely they'll put up much of a chase.
Gators are ambush predators and prefer to attack in water. They also happen to prefer smaller prey that they can finish off in a single snap and won't put up much of a fight. If an alligator manages to get you in its jaws in its preferred habitat, don't bother trying to pry them open. Alligator's jaws are built to clamp down hard, so it's no use trying to escape that way. Make noise, resist and fight back by sticking a finger in the gator's eye. That's about the most a person can do to get the alligator to let go, and it should be enough.
Of course, the best way to survive an alligator attack is to avoid it altogether. If you're in an area that might be home to alligators, keep your distance from the ones you see and keep an eye out for the ones you don't.