There's no shortage of American Alligators in south Florida. Nearly everywhere one goes, the toothy lizards are laying about, or poking their snouts ominously from the water. Although not very aggressive and hardly a threat to anyone with half a brain and an ounce of self-preservation, their presence does make one look at the murky swamp waters in a new light.
This big boy was one of the larger ones that I saw on my recent trip, but they can get a lot bigger than that. The males grow larger than the females, and there is at least one claim of a 19+ footer being bagged. That'd be exceptional; normally they'll not stretch more than 14 or 15 feet and such jumbos are rare.
Regardless of their size, you don't want to try and ride one sidesaddle or scratch 'em behind the ears. If it didn't flee, the gator might chomp you and that would hurt. Supposedly, the force of their jaws clamping together is one of the strongest pressures ever measured in an animal. A healthy gator can exert over 9,000 newtons of force with its downward clamp of the jaw. What's that mean? Well, 9,000 newtons is about equivalent to a ton of force. An expert boxer normally wouldn't generate half this force in his strongest blows. Plus, the gator has the added benefit of a lot of teeth with which to secure you, and the ability to keep those jaws shut so tightly you'd need TNT to blast yourself free.
It's good that there are so many gators to see these days. It was only a few decades ago that scientists thought they would never recover to the point of being common. Unrestrained market hunting throughout much of the 1900's nearly eliminated alligators from much of the southern U.S., and in 1967 it was declared an endangered species. Multi-pronged recovery efforts following this designation were successful, and the gator was de-listed in 1987 and is once again a fixture of Florida wetlands.