It’s important to remember that we are intruders on the alligators’ natural habitat. These animals have been around since the dinosaurs–literally millions of years. There are about 5 million wild alligators in the United States, concentrated in the southeastern part of the country. They live in almost any type of body of water such as lakes, ponds, marshes, inlets and swamps. Adult alligators will eat fish, amphibians, snakes, turtles, small mammals and even sometimes bears or deer that have gotten too close to the water’s edge at the wrong time. Let’s look at some alligator safety tips to keep in mind while you explore nature in alligator country.

1. Never feed alligators or throw food in the water for them. Alligators, like many wild animals, are naturally wary of humans. When people feed them, they lose their natural fear of humans and become more of a danger.

2. Alligators will eat anything they can catch along the water’s edge. That means it’s best to keep your dog, cat and child at least 15 feet or more away from the edge of any body of water.

3. Alligators are especially aggressive during spring mating season. It’s best to keep a healthy distance from them during this time, even more so than usual.

4. Alligators are nocturnal. This means they are most active between dusk and dawn. Avoid being close to the water’s edge during these hours and definitely avoid swimming during these hours. To an alligator, you will look like food.

5. Steer clear of alligators if you see them in the water, on the shores sunning themselves or even walking through a golf course. Stay a safe distance away and let them pass. Remember, we are the intruders on their habitat.

6. Don’t assume there are no alligators around if you can’t see them. Alligators can stay submerged in water for more than two hours at a time and can lunge quickly and quietly before you ever realize they’re there.

7. Never pick up or try to handle baby alligators or alligator eggs. Mother alligators are extremely territorial and will attack swiftly if you approach or mess with her nest or babies. In fact, this is the situation under which most alligator attacks happen. You might not even realize you are close to a nest hidden in tall grasses. This makes it especially important to keep a safe distance from the water’s edge where nests could be close to the shore.

Ultimately, the best advice for alligator safety is to keep a good distance from them and waters they might be in and leave them alone. If you are ever attacked by an alligator, thrash, kick and go for the eyes to get away to safety. Alligators grab their prey and roll them under the water to drown them so avoid being pulled under at all costs. Once you get free, seek medical attention immediately. Thankfully, alligator attacks or bites don’t happen often but they do happen. Follow these alligator safety tips to keep yourself, your pets and your kids safe from alligators while you’re out enjoying nature.