WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- Ah, springtime. The flowers bloom, the birds sing, the bees buzz, and the alligators start behaving like sailors on shore leave.
As the weather warms, the barely formed thoughts of Florida's favorite reptiles, like the thoughts of many other animals, turn to sex. And as bull alligators seek out mates, they often encounter great obstacles: namely, people.
"There's a greater possibility of seeing alligators, especially bigger ones, this time of year," said Tom Stice, alligator biologist with the Florida Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
In the spring, male alligators become more active -- but not necessarily more dangerous -- as they troll for the more sedentary females, Mr. Stice said.
More than anything else, the procreative wanderlust leads to a greater number of nuisance calls to the commission.
In years past, amorous alligators have been found under cars, in backyards and patios, even on screened porches. But the animals pose little threat to people, and no alligator-related injuries have been reported this year, according to Lt. John Kirkland of the Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission.
"You've got a better chance of being hit by lightning than getting 'gator-bit," he said.
Trapper Terry Ott of Loxahatchee says the alligators don't pose a threat to people unless they are protecting a nest.
"Every year at this time you get more 'gator complaints, but the only time you're going to get aggression out of an alligator is when she's nesting, to protect those eggs," he said. "I've never seen an aggressive male alligator. Alligators are on the retreat the whole time."
Mr. Ott, who has been a trapper since 1981, is one of 55 alligator trappers who capture nuisance alligators under contract with the state.
Wildlife officers first respond to complaints to determine whether the alligator poses a threat.
The commission has received about 900 complaints in its 10-county district so far this year, but a fourth of the alligators reported were not dangerous, a spokesman said.
Mr. Ott receives about 150 nuisance calls a year from the state, and he catches the targets about a third of the time, he said.
The typical nuisance alligator is usually found on a canal bank or lake shore near a residential neighborhood. Those that are less than 4 feet long are released elsewhere. Larger ones are killed.
He and Mr. Stice advise those who encounter alligators to remain calm and leave them alone. Usually the alligator will go away.
"In a normal situation, there's no reason to get panicky," Mr. Stice said. "They have a natural aversion to humans and know the difference between humans and their natural prey."