In one week, two alligators have been involved in separate nighttime crashes in the Tampa Bay area.
Such instances are rare — but the phenomenon leading to these collisions is not.
A convergence of factors — it’s mating season, and hot and dry weather — are all coming together to make alligators more active. Especially at night.
“It depends on the temperatures in the air and water, as to how active they are,” Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission Gary Morse said. “As we move toward summer, they tend to become more active between dusk and dawn.”
On Thursday night, a motorcyclist was seriously injured after crashing into a 10-foot gator on State Road 674 in Lithia.
Two days earlier, a mother of four escaped serious injury when her sport-utility vehicle struck a 9-foot alligator crossing Interstate 75 in Sarasota.
And just last month, a gator snarled morning traffic as it stood in the southbound lanes of the Veterans Expressway and reportedly snapped at cars attempting to pass it.
After the Sarasota crash, Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Gregory S. Bueno told the Palm Beach Post that crashes involving alligators are rare along that stretch of I-75 in southwest Florida.
And while Morse added that it’s not rare for gators to be on the move this time of year, as temperatures climb and mating season — March through June — is in full-swing, serious accidents being caused by gators are highly unusual.
Technically, summer isn’t here yet. But the reality is that temperatures have soared into the 90s across Tampa Bay this week, breaking records in Tampa three days this week.
“Especially this week, we’ve had record-high temperatures. It hasn’t just been one day, it’s been a string of days,” said 10Weather WTSP meteorolgist Grant Gilmore. “If anything is going to be more active in abnormally warm temperature, it’s definitely more likely that we see them lately.”
Floridians have certainly been seeing their fair share of alligators even before these crashes — some on golf courses and others in swimming pools.
During mating season, females are searching for nesting spots. In many instances, males are pushed out of ponds by the biggest male, forcing the others to travel, said John Paner, director at Croc Encounters in Tampa.
“When you get into the mating season, there’s a lot more movement,” Paner said. “(And) when the temperature goes up, the animals become more active as well.”
The lack of rain isn’t helping either. Florida’s drought monitor shows 15 percent of the state is in an extreme drought, Gilmore said. And when an already small, shallow pond evaporates, gators are forced to move again.
“They will move around to find water,” Paner said. “And on the way they can get caught in a swimming pool, or a driveway or a major road. They don’t know the difference between a road and an open field. They just want to get to water.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report. Contact Samantha Putterman at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @samputterman.