04/09/2012 12:11 pm ET | Updated Apr 09, 2012

American Crocodile Population Making A Comeback In South Florida: Report

As if alligators, sharks, and pythons that swim in salt water weren't already a constant worry in the minds of water-loving South Floridians, experts say the threatened American Crocodile population has rebounded heartily from a count of less than 300 in the 1970s.

The imperiled population has grown to an estimated 1,500 crocs despite a freeze two years ago that killed hundreds, reports the Miami Herald, and Florida Fish And Wildlife says from just 10 to 20 documented nests there are now more than 100 on record.

That's a good thing for the crocodile, a reportedly bashful snaggletooth whose only U.S. home is South Florida, in the salty and brackish ponds, creeks in mangrove swamps, and even freshwater canals that dot the landscape.

But as the Herald reports, more crocodiles means more encounters with humans. Though crocodilian expert and HuffPost blogger Frank J. Mazzotti confirms the American crocodile is shy of man -- its reputation earned largely by its aggressive relatives in Africa and Australia -- at least one dog has been snatched off a dock in the Florida Keys, and nuisance calls are on the rise:

Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission fielded 106 "nuisance" croc calls — with more than 80 percent of those from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, which boast prime breeding grounds along Florida Bay and the highest concentration of crocs...

"As their numbers grow, so does the risk, said [biologist Mark] Parry. “Sooner or later there will probably be, just like with the Florida panther, a first attack on a human."

Interesting facts about crocodiles, according to the Florida Fish And Wildlife Conservation Commission:

  • Crocodiles are most active between dusk and dawn, so swimming is only recommended during daylight hours. (Source)
  • Often spotted with their mouths open, crocodiles' "gaping" behavior is a method of regulating body temperature and not an indicator of aggression. (Source)
  • Crocodiles normally enter the water quietly, so a splashing sound indicates a croc is frightened. (Source)
  • State and federal law prohibits killing, harassing, or possessing crocodiles. (Source)
  • Dogs are more susceptible to being bitten than humans because they resemble the shape of crocodiles' natural prey. (Source)
  • Crocodiles were first spotted here in Biscayne Bay in the 1800s. (Source)
  • Construction of the cooling canal system at Florida Power & Light's Turkey Point Nuclear Power Plant created a nesting habitat where none had existed. (Source)
  • Crocodiles have been found as far north as Jupiter Beach on the east coast, where onlookers captured it in a net (Source: Sun-Sentinel) and St. Petersburg on the west, where a homeowner captured the first image of a croc in Tampa Bay in at least half a century (Source: St. Pete Times).