Wildlife Watch: How Common are Alligator Attacks on Humans?

by Jon D. B.

Alongside North America’s bear species, alligator attacks seem to be on the rise. But how common are they, truly? Let’s look at the numbers.

From the species’ well-known stomping grounds in Florida and Louisiana, to lesser-known habitats in Oklahoma, the American alligator is a fact of life for many of us in the Southeast. They’re an everyday sight in many parts of coastal South Carolina and Georgia, and as the climate continues to warm gators are making their way further and further up the Mississippi River, too. Pretty soon, we may be contending with giant reptiles here in Tennessee.

Despite their somewhat limited range, alligators inhabit much of the same space as we southerners. From slow-moving rivers to lakes, ponds, and estuaries, gators are anywhere there’s ample prey within a freshwater ecosystem; both things we humans still require to survive, as well.

With all this co-habitation in America, humans are likely to fall prey to these ancient giants on a regular basis, right? Well, yes and no.

Alligator attacks are not uncommon. Fatalities, however, are exceptionally rare in the United States – but they do occur. The same is not true for the rest of the world, where crocodilians take thousands upon thousands of human lives every year.

For the sake of efficiency, though, let’s focus on our home turf and crunch the numbers.

How Common are Alligator Attacks in America?

Right off the bat, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission holds the answers we seek for the Sunshine State.

According to their data, there have been 413 unprovoked alligator attacks in Florida from 1948 to 2019.

Over the last 10 years, there have been 7 unprovoked gator bites per year (on average) that require professional, reported medical treatment. This does not take into account those of our species who solicit alligator bites to occur. Yes, they’re out there.

In that same time span (1948-2019), there have been 25 human fatalities by alligators in Florida.

So if you live in Florida, the likelihood of becoming an alligator fatality is roughly 1 in 3.1 million, the agency states.

The numbers are similar for Louisiana, too, despite recent tragedies. For every other Southeastern state, alligator fatalities decrease significantly.

According to the CDC, only 10 people have been killed by alligators in the Southeast from 1999-2019. In addition, the University of Florida cites American alligators are only responsible for fewer than 6% of worldwide crocodilian fatalities.

In the end, the odds of dying from an American alligator attack in the U.S. are, thankfully, infinitesimal. Once you take the tiny chance of a gator attacking you to begin with, take 4% of that – and this is how likely the University of Florida says you are to die of an alligator attack.

This by no means, however, makes our alligator neighbors safer to hang around with. In fact, the species warrants an abundance of caution from us humans. If you live in alligator country, never swim in undesignated bodies of water. Steer clear of rivers, marshes, ponds, lakes, swamps and all gator haunts, as well.

Better safe than sorry.