Alligators were responsible for 12 attacks on humans in Florida last year. (WikiCommons)
Alligators were responsible for 12 attacks on humans in Florida last year.WikiCommons

A nine-year-old boy has described fighting off an alligator that attacked him as he swam in a lake in a popular park.

At a news conference in Arnold Palmer hospital, Orlando, Florida, James Barney said that when the alligator first attacked, he did not realise what was happening.

"It really amazed me what happened. At first I thought someone was just playing with me and I didn't know what happened," he told reporters.

"I reached down to go grab it and I felt its jaw I felt its teeth and I didn't know what to do, so I immediately reacted and hit a couple of times, and then finally I had enough strength left to pry its jaw open a little," he said.

Barney had been swimming in Lake Toho in St Cloud, Florida, near the popular tourist destination of Orlando.

He had been riding his bike, and had stopped to take a dip in the lake, which is not reserved for swimmers.

Immediately after the attack, fishermen tried to catch the alligator, but it was so powerful it managed to snap the line.

The surgeon who treated him said the reptile had caused about 30 wounds from its claws and teeth, and had left a tooth embedded in the boy's flesh.

"The tooth is pretty big. I wanted to keep it, but animal control came in and took it so they could find the alligator that attacked me," said James.

Officials estimate that alligator was about nine feet long (2.75m) and weighed about 500lb (226kg). The beach where James went swimming has been closed, and experts have been brought in to try and catch the alligator.

Alligators were responsible for 12 attacks on humans in Florida last year,but none were fatal.