How Fast Can Alligators Run?

Written by Katelynn Sobus
Updated: November 1, 2022
© iStock.com/unclegene
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Alligators are large, predatory reptiles. They tend to be a little lazy, going after small prey and not pursuing larger game. This is why alligator attacks are pretty rare!

However, an alligator might chase or bite a person if they are scared, territorial, or protecting their nests. Most alligator attacks happen past dusk at or near the water’s edge. May through September are prime periods as well since this is when alligators mate and reproduce.

It’s best to avoid alligators whenever possible and keep your distance from them.

How fast can an alligator run? In this article, we’ll discuss how fast they run and swim, whether they chase people, and what to do if an alligator is chasing you!

How Fast Can An Alligator Run?

Alligator Lifespan - Alligator front view
Alligators can “burst” at speeds of about 30 miles per hour, but its only over a short distance.

©iStock.com/cturtletrax

How fast are alligators? Alligators can run up to 20 miles per hour, even reaching 30 miles per hour, however, there is more to these figures than there seems to be at a glance. For one, alligators can only maintain these speeds at extremely short bursts. Essentially, alligators are only capable of accelerating very quickly over short distances. That is to say, if you’re within 10 feet of an alligator, they can be extremely fast and dangerous.

Search the Internet for a video of an alligator running 30 miles per hour across a field and you’ll be disappointed. However, search for alligators lunging and grabbing prey in short distances and you’ll be amazed by their rapid power over short distances.

Which leads us to another question of how fast can an alligator run over distances beyond a body length? The answer is that alligators can run somewhere between 9.5 and 11 miles per hour. However, even that figure has caveats as alligators will rarely exert themselves for more than 100 feet. They’re sedentary creatures that have adapted to have very quick and powerful movements when prey comes near them and are generally not active hunters that chase down prey.

In cold weather, alligators will even brumate, which is a type of hibernation in which their bodies slow down to survive the chilly temperatures.

You may see an alligator in the water with their head or snout poking out, allowing themselves to breathe as they sit still beneath the surface. When alligators need to move, however, all of that conserved energy serves them well.

Alligator Speed on Land Vs. Water

On land, an alligator’s top speed in very short bursts can reach 30 miles per hour. When swimming, however, they’re a little slower—topping out at 20 miles per hour. This is still much faster than a human swimmer. We average out at only 2 miles per hour!

Just keep in mind once again, however, that alligators are not generally active predators. They’ll generally swim at much lower speeds than their maximum speed and conserve energy.

Will Alligators Chase People?

Alligator Lifespan - American Alligator
Alligators prefer not to chase prey and instead are adapted as ambush predators.

©iStock.com/GlobalP

Alligators may chase people either in the water or on land. However, it isn’t super common, and most alligator attacks happen near shorelines.

Just beware being too close, they pack an incredible bite force of over 2,000 pounds per square inch!

It’s never worth the risk to mess with an alligator or swim near them. Avoid swimming, wading, or walking nearby waters where alligators live or swim, especially at dusk—their most active time of day.

Most alligator attacks happen when:

  • The alligator is hungry or hunting, usually at nighttime.
  • Alligators are in their mating season, between May and June.
  • A human threatens, tempts, or baits an alligator. (Always keep your distance!)
  • Humans approach an alligator nest, which is typically located on land at the water’s bank.

Alligators prefer easier prey than humans and are more likely to eat small animals such as fish, birds, frogs, turtles, snakes, or small mammals.

How Long can an Alligator Stay out of Water?

Alligators can remain out of water for as long as they like. They aren’t aquatic animals. Although they spend much of their time in the water, they breathe air.

Roaming far from the water’s surface is rare for alligators, though. This is why most attacks happen either in the water or at the shoreline.

The main threat is alligators’ speed in short distances. Simply put, unless you approach an alligator or don’t see one nearby, they generally pose little risk. Most fatal alligator attacks have come from people nearing the water’s edge in alligator-heavy areas or engaging in activities like snorkeling.

Can a Human Outrun an Alligator?

The bottom line is that most humans can outrun an alligator. While the “headline” of 30 miles per hour would be faster than any human (the fastest human ever recorded ran at a top speed of 27 miles per hour), remember that the top speed is more of a lunge that’s a very short distance.

Over a span of 100 feet, an alligator would top out at about 10 miles per hour. While this can be faster than many humans are capable of, alligators generally aren’t looking to chase larger prey.

Avoid waters known to contain alligators, don’t swim past dusk, and always supervise children in or near water. Even shallow waters can contain alligators, and people have been attacked while wading near the water’s edge.

What to do if an Alligator is Chasing You

alligator looking at camera with mouth open
Alligator attacks are generally rare and most often happen from people entering the water’s edge.

©iStock.com/tobiasfrei

If you are ever near an alligator, back away from them slowly. They are most likely going to be afraid of you and will try to retreat.

Rarely, an alligator will chase or attack a human instead. This sometimes happens if a mother is protecting her nest, a male is looking for a mate, or the alligator is hunting or otherwise desperate for food.

If an alligator chases you, run as quickly as you can in a straight line—don’t zigzag, as this won’t help and can slow you down.

If the alligator bites you, the best thing to do is to fight back and make a lot of noise. People nearby can also help by making a racket in hopes that the alligator is scared away.

Aim for the alligator’s eyes or face, as this might make them release you.

An alligator kills its prey by rolling it beneath the water until it drowns. You want to fight this as hard as possible, and not let the gator pull you under if you can help it.

Once you escape an alligator attack, seek medical help. All animal bites can become infected easily, especially one from such a large, strong animal.


The Featured Image

Deadliest Animals in America
Alligator with jaws open wide at Everglades National Park. Alligators kill about one person a year in America.
© iStock.com/unclegene

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About the Author

I'm an animal writer of four years with a primary focus on educational pet content. I want our furry, feathery, and scaley friends to receive the best care possible! In my free time, I'm usually outdoors gardening or spending time with my nine rescue pets.

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