On scaly beasts and you

Image by flickr user t_crescibeneImage by 20080615alligator.jpg Mean, nasty, and fearsome; but almost certainly they don't have to be deadly to humans.

With all the recent stories about alligators and even a crocodile in the area, we thought we'd take a moment to point out some tips on living with the state's estimated 100,000 living fossils.

Alligators are solitary and territorial creatures that generally avoid humans. Often human attacks are caused by accident, human aggression or a byproduct of the creatures being fed in the past by humans. Generally, the animals are of less threat December through February as the weather makes it too cold for the creature and they will not feed until their body temperature reaches 72 degrees.

More than half of the complaints the S.C. Department of Natural Resources investigates are of alligators less than 5 feet long, which the department says are not a problem as they feed on crawfish, aquatic insects, small snakes, frogs, and turtles. And keep in mind that the department must destroy all alligators it is called in to remove.

And it's good to know a bit of history and biology. An American alligator is, on average 800 pounds and 13 feet long. According to the Everglades National Park Web site, the largest alligator ever recorded in Florida was 17 feet 5 inches long and 1,043 pounds. The creatures usually live 50 or more years.

Also, you'll likely never see a crocodile here, as the American crocodile's range only extends into the most southern reaches of Florida.

Lesson in the end? They're big, powerful creatures that are really only a threat to people when more than five feet long in the warm months and when provoked. Oh, and they don't care for salt water either.

Stay smart, read the signs, and you should be fine. And if you just can't stand the things, you can apply for one of the state's 1,000 alligator hunting permits.

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