Alligators are incredibly common around Florida, with many tourists flocking to the state to see the animals in their natural habitat. But it's safe to say you haven't really encountered an alligator until one the size of a small car strolls casually past you, like the giant in the video below.
Footage of this ridiculously huge alligator in a nature preserve in central Florida has gone viral this week, with pretty much everyone asking the same things: Is it real? And how the hell does an alligator get this big?
The alligator in question has been nicknamed 'Humpback', and was filmed at the Circle B Bar Reserve in Polk County, Florida.
Kim Joiner, who captured the footage, estimated that the 'gator was around 3.6 metres (12 feet) long, and admitted to being "a little" nervous as it walked past.
"However, I saw it coming," she responded to comments on Facebook. "I have been more scared when they just cross with no warning on Alligator Ally trail."
Here's an alternate angle of Humpback from the other side:
Circle B Bar never ceases to amaze and inspire. I didn't find many arthropods today, but that doesn't mean I was disappointed. This is Mr. Humpback, now known in our house as Godzilla. Today we had the incredible experience of watching this amazing animal cross the trail in front of us (and a few other lucky hikers). He is ~14-15 feet long (the trail here is ~6 ft across). Given his size he is likely over 40 years old, maybe even 50. I don't think I need any caffeine for a while. Canon T6i & EF-S 55-250mm IS STM. . . #alligator #mrhumpback #humpback #godzilla #trailcrossing #justanotherday #amazing #nature #naturephotography #circlebbarreserve #funinflorida #walkinthepark #sundayinthepark #naturefl #funinflorida #roamflorida #cleargram #igers_tampa #igersstpete #teamcanon #discoverwildlife #wildlifeplanet #floridaparks
So is the footage real? Joiner insists that she didn't use Photoshop on the footage, and according to evolutionary biologist Rick Shine from the University of Sydney in Australia, the video appears to be genuine.
In fact, he points out that alligators can get a lot bigger than we give them credit for. The longest verified alligator on record was an individual that was killed in Alabama in 2014, and reached 4.5 metres (14 feet, 9.25 inches).
But there are unconfirmed reports of them getting even bigger.
"The average male American alligator is around 4 metres (13 feet) long, and there are occasional records of them getting well over 5 metres (16.4 feet)," Shine told ScienceAlert.
"You're talking about an animal that’s going to weight 500 kg (1,100 pounds) - this is a huge reptile."
But he admits that it's hard to tell in the footage how large the alligator is, because of the perspective.
"I think there's no doubt that good old Humpback is male," he says. "But you can’t estimate actual size of the animal, because it’s much closer to the camera than the tourists - you could make a small lizard look gigantic in this way."
Other animal experts have echoed Shine's comments.
"The animal in the video is most certainly an American alligator, and it’s a pretty large one, probably a male," Ian Recchio, curator of reptiles at the Los Angeles Zoo, told National Geographic.
"I can’t tell if somebody photoshopped the people in the background, but [the animal] appears to be authentic."
He added that Joiner's estimate of 3.6 metres (12 feet) isn't unreasonable for the animal.
So the next question is, if this alligator is legit, why the hell are all these people standing around filming it instead of running for the trees?
Shine explains that even though alligators can grow to formidable sizes, they're actually a lot more easy-going than a saltwater crocodile.
"The co-existence of alligators and people in the American south east is just extraordinary," he says. "Every once in a while someone does get taken, but it's a very rare occurrence. Alligators really do not seem to be very interested in people as food."
Instead, 'gators prefer to feed on smaller animals, such as fish, turtles, musk rats, and the occasional larger mammal like deer. When they do grab humans, it's usually a mistake, or a devastating case of wrong place, wrong time, explains Shine.
And as terrifying as this individual looks, it isn't the first enormous alligator spotted in the state.
Last year, a similar-sized male was spotted walking across the Buffalo Creek Golf Club in Palmetto, Florida. And there could actually be a good reason we're seeing more of the monster-sized animals lately - better conservation.
Alligators can continue to grow throughout their lives, so generally, the older they get, the bigger they'll be. But until alligators were put on the endangered species list in 1973, most didn't get the chance to live long enough to get huge.
"This was a species that was persecuted, almost to extinction, so the population had been reduced," Recchio told National Geographic. "We now are seeing older mature alligators, which in the past weren’t around because they were hunted."
So giant alligators are real, and they're actually a good thing for the environment. Let's keep the terrifying videos coming.