Alligators lurking on sandy beaches from Texas to Florida is definitely a thing

As if sharks, stingrays, and jellyfish weren’t enough to worry about, beachgoers along the Gulf of Mexico may have another fear to ponder: alligators in the water.

People in Texas have made multiple reports this year of alligators hanging out in the sand and saltwater along the Gulf of Mexico. There have also been sightings on Florida beaches.

These events might seem strange and concerning — typically, alligators prefer freshwater and leave saltier places to crocodiles — but such reports aren’t unprecedented.

In fact, one alligator was seen swimming as far as almost 40 miles off the coast in 2004. That particular predator circled an oil rig for a few hours before swimming off.

Most alligators don’t go nearly so far, but they do leave freshwater on occasion and wade into the Gulf. They’re also known to pop into saltwater marsh ecosystems for a snack. (They’re actually quite partial to blue crab.)

So should you worry about gators lurking on your favourite beach?

Probably not. The animals can’t handle salty water for very long, since they lack salt glands that pump harmful concentrations of sodium and other seawater ions out of their bodies. Young alligators seem to have an especially hard time in saltwater, though the thicker skin of older alligators may provide better tolerance.

Whether or not you’re near freshwater or saltwater when you see an alligator, the same principle holds: To stay safe, keep your distance.

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