Seeing an alligator in the Everglades is a run-of-the-mill experience. Being bitten by one is a lot rarer. But that's just what happened to a college student this weekend during a group hike.
The student was hiking with her professor and about fourteen other students near the Pahayokee Overlook when an alligator bit her in the right leg. The spokeswoman for the park said the injury consisted of two small puncture wounds in the student’s lower leg and added that the injury was “low pain.” The popular trail required wading at the time of the incident, but even during seasons where the trail is wet or partially submerged such attacks are extremely rare; according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the chances of a serious unprovoked alligator attack are about 1 in 3.1 million.
Everglades Park biologists have temporarily closed the trail while they evaluate the incident.
The American alligator can be found throughout the southeastern United States, primarily in freshwater swamps and marshes. Adult makes can reach 15 feet in length, while females top out around 10. They typically eat fish, turtles, birds, small mammals, and smaller reptiles. It's considered a keystone species in Everglades National Park, and their dens become critical refuges for other Everglades animals in the dry season.
Alligator attacks on humans are very rare and usually result from illegal feeding, which makes the alligators less wary of humans and more likely to attack rather than flee; the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission has recorded 413 alligator/human incidents since 1948, including 25 fatalities. Feeding or provoking the alligators, or any other wildlife in the park, is illegal. Rangers also ask that visitors refrain from swimming in the park, as it brings them farther into the alligators’ habitat.