Alligator Death Roll: Everything you Wanted to Know

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator vs. Python
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Written by Cindy Rasmussen

Published: April 2, 2022

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A razorback pig wanders out of the brush and down to the swamp. It waddles up to the edge of the water and takes a drink. In seconds, it is dragged into the water by a 500lb alligator with its jaws clamped tight around its neck. It tries to gore the alligator with its sharp tusks but cannot get a jab in as it is spun around in a death roll. The force of the death roll and being held underwater cause the razorback’s death. The death then provides dinner for the hungry alligator. Let’s find out all about the alligator death roll!

Why Do Alligators Death Roll?

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator front view

Alligators use the death roll to kill and dismember their prey!

  1. Alligators death roll to kill their prey.
  2. Alligators use the death roll to dismember their prey and break it down. They don’t have molar teeth, so they can’t chew. They also don’t have sharp front canines like lions, so they can’t rip chunks of meat off the bone. The death roll rips the prey into bite-size pieces.
  3. Alligators death roll to disorient their prey, making it difficult for the prey to fight back or escape.
  4. Alligators can death roll as a defense mechanism and to show dominance over other alligators. If they need to defend their territory or compete for a mate, alligators will fight each other. They can use this maneuver as a “wrestling move” against other alligators.

Do Alligators Get Dizzy After A Death Roll?

If you’ve ever been spun around blindfolded before taking a swat at a piñata, then you know how it feels to be dizzy. The same thing happens to the prey during a death roll. It makes it much more difficult for an animal to fight back or escape if it is disoriented. Alligators don’t seem to get dizzy afterward.

Do All Alligators Death Roll?

Deadliest Animal in the World: Crocodiles

All alligators are capable of death rolling.

Yes! Both the American alligator and Chinese alligator can death roll. In fact, all of the alligators, crocodiles, gharials, and caimans in the Crocodylidae family can death roll except one. In a research study by Stephanie Drumheller-Horton from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, all 25 species of crocodile were studied at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm in Florida. Kent Vliet from the University of Florida assisted in the study. The results showed that 24 of the 25 species death rolled! The only species that did not was the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman, a small crocodile species from South America. Just because this species didn’t perform during the experiment doesn’t mean that they can’t. It is more likely that they death roll in the wild. Researchers originally thought that some species, like gharials with long skinny snouts, didn’t death roll, but it turns out they do.

Do Alligators Death Roll On Land Too?

Largest Alligators

Alligators are equipped to death roll on land too.

Yes, alligators can death roll on land. Alligators are semi-aquatic and spend most of their time in the water. They can run about 10mph but can swim closer to 20mph, so it makes sense why they prefer to hunt in the water. If they need to, though, they can death roll on land, using their powerful tails to give them some momentum.

How Do Alligators Roll So Fast?

One research group studied the mechanics of the death roll, which they also call “twist feeding.” They worked with 3m (almost 10 feet) alligators and measured the force and momentum. They described it as “a zero angular momentum turn.” That means that if you were in a swimming pool, you would be able to get your body to roll without a friend getting you started by giving you a push. If a cat is falling from a tree, it can right itself to land on its feet. The movements of an alligator are similar and explain why they can get going so fast. Think about how muscular alligators are!

What Kinds Of Animals Do Alligators Attack?

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator vs. Python

Large alligators can take on larger animals like

Burmese pythons

.

Smaller alligators eat mostly fish, while larger alligators eat mostly fish but can also take on snakes, raccoons, muskrat, nutrias, deer, and wild boars. Alligators are opportunistic eaters and will eat whatever they can get their hands (mouths) on.

Do Any Other Animals Death Roll?

There are a few other animals that death roll, including a small shark species that looks like it is wearing striped pajamas!

Do Alligators Attack Humans And Use The Death Roll?

Yes, alligators treat humans like any other prey. Unfortunately, people find this out the hard way sometimes. While alligator attacks are rare, they do happen and are sometimes deadly.

A woman in South Carolina approached an alligator that was in a pond behind a client’s house, taking pictures as she went. The client warned her that the alligator had snatched a deer from that same spot earlier, but the woman was not deterred. She continued getting closer until the alligator grabbed her by the leg and dragged her into the water. The client’s husband and a neighbor threw her a rope to try to pull her out when the alligator did a death roll and made her lose her grip, letting go of the rope. The alligator dragged her under again, and her dead body was found 15 minutes later. Definitely a reminder to always keep your distance from dangerous wildlife!

Do Baby Alligators Death Roll?

baby alligator closeup

Baby alligators practice the death roll at times.

Yes, baby alligators can death roll. A cute video shows a group of baby alligators in a pond in Louisiana. They are not attacking small lizards or anything, but one of the gators is practicing its death roll. It is surprising how fast the little guy can spin! Maybe practice makes perfect, and in a few years, he will be ready to take on a razorback pig!


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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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