Gator Truths

­Alligators don't overturn boats to capture prey. Some people ­paddling canoes and kayaks have overturned their boats when they scrapped the back of an alligator in shallow water, but that wasn't the fault of alligator.

Alligators don't snatch people out of boats. When you see an alligator on the water's edge silently glide into the water and head toward your boat, it can be frightening. But it's not what it seems. Alligators simply are much more comfortable in water than on land, so when they're startled by a boat while sunning themselves, they instinctively head for the water

Why Alligators Don't Like to Eat Humans

Not only are alligators not likely to chase you a long distance on dry land, they're not likely to attack you at all. ­Alligators prefer an easy meal. They're patient hunters and will stalk their prey in the water for hours before attacking. But once they attack, they don't want to do a lot of work. Prey that fights back is typically abandoned. And they don't like to attack anything they can't swallow in one gulp. Even large alligators typically choose prey that's relatively small, which is good news for adult human beings.

Small alligators make up the majority­ of the alligator population. An­ alligator that is less than 5 feet (1.5 meters) long will typically eat c­rawfish, small snakes and turtles. They don't even present a threat to small dogs. Small all­igators ­are not a threat to humans and won't attack people under normal circumstances.

Sometimes people think small alligators -- say, smaller than 3 feet (0.9 meters) -- will make a good pet. In fact, trying to capture an alligator is the most common way people get bitten by one. Even small alligators have more than 80 razor-sharp teeth. While a bite may not be life threatening, it still requires a visit to the hospital.

Large alligators are less common, but they're the greatest threat to humans because they're big enough to size us up as a legitimate meal. A full-grown alligator that is between 8 and 11 feet (2.4 and 3.4 meters) could weigh up to 1,000 pounds (453 kilograms) [source: Smithsonian National Zoological Park]. Even though these alligators are a threat to humans, they're still wary of us. Alligators would prefer to avoid interactions with people altogether. When people witness an alligator snapping its jaws and growling, they assume it's preparing to attack. In fact, this is defensive posturing.

Still not convinced that alligators don't hunt humans? Look at the numbers. There's an average of four alligator attacks in the United States each year (despite the fact that the state of Florida alone averages 12,000 complaints about the reptiles annually). Here's another number to think about: Since 1948, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has received reports of 356 alligator attacks on humans. Twenty-five of those attacks were fatal, and in nine cases it's believed that the victims were deceased before the alligators ate them for dinner.

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule, right?