Alligator Death Roll: Everything You Need To Know



If you have ever seen a documentary on alligators, something that always seems to be featured is the alligator death roll. Alligators and crocodiles are known to use a death roll when hunting prey.

For many years not much was known about this technique, but recent research has unveiled quite a bit.

Alligators use the death roll to dismember their prey and break the body down into smaller pieces so they can swallow it. They use it as an effective way to kill or disorient their prey, as well as to show dominance and defend their territory.

After extensive studies and research, herpetologists (croc and gator researchers) have found the death roll performed by these giant reptiles is not just for show and is far less than a one-dimensional move.

Let’s dive into how spinning helps alligators survive.

Alligator eating another alligator

Alligator Death Roll

The death roll is sometimes also referred to as twist feeding. The alligator’s death roll work like this:

  • First, the alligator attacks its prey, clamping down on it,
  • Then it drags the prey underwater,
  • And lastly, it starts to twist and roll its prey around until it dies.

A recent study found that most crocodile and alligator species use this death roll as a functioning maneuver.

In addition, they found many reasons why alligators use the death roll.

Why Do Alligators Use A Death Roll 

Alligators and crocodiles are probably the closest we will get to real dinosaurs. They have evolved into apex predators that have a solution for all their problems. The alligator death roll is one such solution.

Herpetologists have found four main reasons alligators use their death roll. Most of these are for functional and practical reasons. 

1. To Kill Their Prey 

The main reason an alligator will use its death roll is to kill its prey. In many situations, alligators will not be scared to attack animals that are bigger than they are. That is where the alligator death roll plays a crucial part.

They will strike with incredible speed and clamp down on the animal, drag it under water and kill it by either breaking its neck or rolling it until it drowns. 

2. To Make Their Food Easier To Eat

Like crocodiles, alligators can’t chew their food. They don’t have molars, so they need to swallow their food whole.

It becomes challenging when the animal is larger than the alligator can swallow. So many alligators will use the death roll and slam their food onto rocks to break it down into smaller pieces.

As they smash their food, they will swallow the smaller pieces that start to break off the bigger section.

Then, if they struggle to get enough traction, they will wedge the piece of meat or kill between two rocks and use the death roll to take off parts, like a butcher chopping meat into smaller sections.

It’s important to note that alligators don’t eat a large animal immediately, so they can use the death roll to break off parts as time passes. Alligators are not picky and will eat carrion (dead, rotting meat).

3. Alligators Will Use Their Death Roll To Disorient Their Prey

When alligators attack an animal, they often use the death roll if the prey tries to fight back or escape.

They will roll their mark to keep it dizzy and disoriented long enough to go in for the kill or long enough so their prey drowns. 

4. They Will Use The Death Roll On Competitors

Alligators are territorial and will attack another alligator. There are three main reasons an alligator will use its death roll on a competitor,

  • They will attack the other alligator to assert dominance in their territory and roll it until it gives up or worse happens.
  • Alligators will use their death roll on a rival to keep a kill or their nest. In addition, female alligators are highly protective of their eggs and young and will attack anything that is a threat.
  • As a combat technique to keep rivals for a mate at bay and show off their vigor.

Will Alligators Use The Death Roll On Humans?

Alligators are not pets and will attack anything in their territory that moves, including humans. So, they will use their death roll on a human.

However, while there are some alligator attacks on humans each year, they don’t all end in fatalities.

That does not mean alligators are not dangerous. For example, suppose an alligator can’t get the entire human underwater but can grab onto an arm or leg. In that case, it will initiate the death roll to try and break off the limb.  

One woman in South Carolina saw an alligator in her client’s backyard pond that leads to a lake. She wanted to take pictures even after the client had warned her it was a bad idea.

The alligator snatched her by the ankles and dragged her underwater. Then, it used its death roll, and despite her husband and client’s attempts to help her, she died a few minutes later.

That is why you should leave wild animals alone.

Does The Death Roll Affect The Alligator?

The alligator death roll is an effective technique to kill prey and dismember their bodies because the twisting and rolling motions do not affect the alligator.

While it will make humans and animals dizzy, it has no effect on alligators.

Do Alligators Use The Death Roll On Land?

Interestingly, alligators don’t mind using their deadly roll on land. While using the death roll might be cumbersome for crocodiles, alligators have adapted to using it on the ground with great success and incredible speed.

Thanks to their tail, alligators are fast in the water and not that slow on land. They use their powerful tail to give them momentum and get more power into their death roll.

A research group that studied the mechanics of the alligator death roll found that alligators can use their death roll with such speed because of their muscular bodies.

Alligators fighting on land

Do Alligators Use The Death Roll On All Prey?

Alligators don’t use their death roll on all types of prey. Instead, alligators kill it and swallow it whole when faced with small prey such as fish, crabs, frogs, crustaceans, insects, and snakes.

They only use the death roll when their prey is bigger than they can swallow.

As we know, they can’t chew, so the meat must be small enough for them to swallow without choking.

If the kill is too big for them and they can’t swallow, they will use their death roll to break off smaller sections and leave the kill to rot so that the meat comes apart more easily.

Alligator caught a turtle

Final Thoughts on Alligator’s Death Roll

Alligators use the death roll to kill and drown prey, rip pieces of meat off of prey, disorientate prey, and compete with other alligators.

Unlike crocodiles, alligators also use their death roll on land.

Although it may seem like alligators would get dizzy from spinning around so much, they actually don’t.

We hope this has helped shed a little more light on how alligators eat and catch their prey.

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