Florida is home to 1.3 million alligators—that's more gators than sold-out crowds at all Orlando's theme parks combined.
If you've ever flown into Orlando, you've noticed the sheer number of lakes dotting Central Florida's landscape. One of those waterways, Shingle Creek, is the source of the Florida Everglades. Lurking below Central Florida's lakes, creeks and springs are thousands and thousands of alligators.
Go Jump in a Lake—or Not!
The most infamous spot in town is Lake Jesup, which is 100,000 years old and home to a whopping 10,000 alligators. (We'll pass on the midnight swim, thank you very much.) Located just north of Orlando, Lake Jesup holds the record for the largest concentration of gators in any lake in the U.S. Many of Orlando's hotels and resorts are located on a lake, but not to worry, you'll likely just see one or two sunning on a bank. Through a safety program administered by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission, once alligators which are residing in populated areas get to be a certain size—with a certain appetite—they are considered a nuisance to people and pets and are killed.
One of the best—and safest—ways to see an alligator up close in its natural environment is on an airboat ride. Wild Florida and Boggy Creek are a few well-known outfitters, providing fun and learning for the whole family. Airboats have the ability to skim the water's surface, bringing passengers close to alligators in the most shallow areas. Airboat tours are offered throughout the day, typically 30 minutes to one hour long, and all ages are welcome. In the heat of the summer, the early hours are better for spotting alligators while in the winter, warm afternoons are ideal. Guides are highly informed and can answer even the toughest of questions from a probing five-year-old.
For a whole day of action-packed gator fun, head to Gatorland, one of the state's original theme parks. Gatorland opened in 1949 and is still family-owned today. This 100-acre park is home to 3,000 gators and 89 crocodiles. A little kitchy and off-the-beaten-path, Gatorland offers guests an "Old Florida" experience. Admission prices are half that of other theme parks, and parking is free. Thrilling animal shows are offered throughout the day as well a popular zip-line attraction, free-flight aviary, petting zoo and rare leucistic white alligator exhibit. Other theme parks like SeaWorld Orlando and Disney's Animal Kingdom provide opportunities to see alligators and crocodiles as well, though they are a minor focus.
Guests at several Orlando resorts get a taste of local culture without ever leaving the property. Each Saturday, a representive from Gatorland visits the World Center Marriott pool area with a few favorite reptile residents. Kids can learn about alligators, and even hold one, during the free meet and greet. Inside the massive atrium of the Gaylord Palms Resort is an alligator habitat with around 30 gators. The staff hosts feedings twice a week where hotel guests are invited to look on. Just north of Orlando at Wekiwa Springs State Park, volunteers lead educational presentations on snakes and alligators at the nature center twice a week where participants even have the opportunity to hold a baby alligator. The NatureWorks exhibit and live presentations at the Orlando Science Center also feature live alligators, including baby gators.
Sink Your Teeth Into These Alligator Facts
- There are two types of alligators in the world: American Alligators and Chinese Alligators.
- American Alligators are found in the Southeastern United States including Orlando.
- American crocodiles are not found in Orlando but are found in South Florida, the Caribbean, Southern Mexico and Central America.
- Unlike humans who peak as teens, alligators continue to grow as long as they live.
- The American Alligator lifespan is around 35 years.
- Females rarely exceed 10 feet, where granddaddys can grow to 12 feet long and close to 1,000 pounds.
- The Florida record for length is just over 14 feet for a male alligator found near Jacksonville.
- Alligators are opportunistic feeders and look for prey that are easily accessible like turtles and birds.
- Alligators are cannibals and will eat younger, smaller gators.
- The State of Florida named the alligator its official state reptile in 1987.
- The gator is the mascot of the University of Florida in Gainesville.
- An alligator has about 80 teeth at a time, and new teeth are constantly replacing old ones.
- Alligators mate in the spring from April-June and are active and even aggressive during this time.