Swamp Thing

An alligator in Graham Area Pond, nicknamed "Ricky Bobby" by UF student Breenna Rossman, surfaces with its dinner. Though outnumbered by humans in the surrounding dorms, the alligator's pond is a protected habitat.

UF students won’t be the only gators looking for love this semester.

With alligator mating season just beginning, students could start to see more mobile alligators not too far from campus, said Kathy Russell, the general curator at the Santa Fe College Teaching Zoo.

Mating season typically begins in May as the weather starts to get warmer and goes into the summer months when alligators lay their eggs, Russell said.

“The season is starting early because there were about three weeks in February where we had temperatures in the 80s,” Russell said. “But this is not uncommon in Florida.”

During this season, alligators become more active and territorial, especially as they start to nest, she said. Even though alligators are more likely to be moving around during this time, they are not necessarily more aggressive or more likely to approach people.

In Gainesville, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park is a popular location for students and alligators alike, Russell said. During the coming months, prairie visitors will be more likely to see young alligators basking on the banks while the older alligators remain in the water, Russell said.

In fact, it is only in rare circumstances that nesting is associated with conflict between humans and alligators, said Karen Parker, a spokesperson for the regional Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Regardless of whether it is mating season, people should always be careful around alligators, Parker said. As the temperature continues to rise, alligators are more likely to take to land. But there are precautions people can take if they see one.

It is important to remember that alligators are wild animals and should be treated as such, Parker said. People should avoid feeding them because this can cause them to associate people with food.

“Whether it’s mating season or not, the best thing to know is to never, ever feed an alligator,” Parker said.

Other precautions people can take include only swimming in designated areas during the day, as gators are most active in water during the night and keeping pets away on a leash, she said.

Sydney Spence, a 19-year-old UF criminology sophomore, has already seen two alligators on campus but said she knows to keep her distance and what to do if one approaches her.

“I would be scared if I saw one,” Spence said. “But I would zigzag run away. That’s what they told me in elementary school.”