Spring is in the air and that means a gator may come a-courting.
Mating season kicked off last month, an annual rite timed to coincide with the dry season when water holes dry up and alligators swipe right (ala Tinder for you old folks). But with an unusually wet South Florida winter, gators may be roaming farther than normal and for some, looking for love in the all the wrong places.
In recent weeks, the randy reptiles have turned up on porches, in yards and in pools, from Florida to South Carolina.
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In April, a Plant City man opened the door to his trailer to find a nine-plus foot alligator on his porch, a month after a Lakeland homeowner found a different nine-footer swimming in his pool. This week, another gator appeared to claw its way the front door of a South Carolina house. The encounters join a growing catalog of video shot by frightened homeowners, generating thousands of views and bad knock-knock jokes.
“Basically they’re moving in areas where historically it was Everglades and now it’s a swimming pool,” said biologist Joe Wasilewski.
As for the recent spate of videos showing gators at front doors, Wasilewski said that could be just dumb luck, or some crafty staging.
“I could get my alligator to do that any day of the week,” said Wasilewski, who trained an 8-foot female alligator named JR to lounge on a chair in his backyard. “An alligator doesn’t know a brick wall from a frigging door. They’re not that smart.”
But they are eager to find love. And they go where there’s water. In the 1980s, Wasilewski studied a popular gator-spotting site in Everglades National Park at Shark Valley. Counting gators along the 7-mile trail, he found the number of gators was directly proportional to the amount of water. As marshes dried out and water levels dipped, gator numbers in the waterway along the trail rose.
“Since the inception of the Everglades, which was 10,000 or 20,000 years ago, the mating season and the breeding season has remained the same every year,’’ he said. “But what hasn’t remained the same is habitat.”
While rare, state wildlife officers warn that alligator attacks can happen: in 2015, two swimmers — one in Blue Springs State Park south of Orlando and another in Texas— were killed. Another Florida man who fled police was attacked and killed in Brevard County. They were the first such deaths in seven years.
During warm weather and mating season, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission spokeswoman Tammy Sapp said people need to keep in mind a few simple rules. Swim only during daylight hours in designated areas. Keep pets on a leash — in November a dog off its leash on a Key Biscayne golf course was attacked and killed. And never, ever feed gators, not even marshmallows.
Gators that overcome their natural fear of humans nearly always have to be trapped and killed. The state also hosts an annual hunt from August through November. Applications for permits begin Friday.
And if you have a pool and live in gator habitat, look before leaping.
“They see the water, they smell the water, they feel the water and boom,” Wasilewski said, “they go in.”
Follow Jenny Staletovich on Twitter @jenstaletovich