Crocodile Death Roll: Everything You Need To Know

If you have ever seen a crocodile documentary or read a book about crocodiles, you must know about the famous crocodile death roll. The dreaded death roll is not for show, it is one of the most effective maneuvers a crocodile can make.

Crocodiles use the death roll to kill prey and dismember their catch into smaller pieces. This is because they can’t chew their food; they can only swallow it. Crocodiles also use it to disorient their prey and show other crocodiles their dominance.

Let’s look at this extremely effective move further and why crocodiles use it as opposed to other means.

crocodile with open jaw

Crocodile Death Roll 

Anyone who likes crocodiles will know about the dreaded crocodile death roll. 

When Herpetologists first started studying this strange crocodile twist, they thought the crocodile death roll was only to kill their prey.

Since then, much has changed as they discovered a few reasons crocodiles use the death roll maneuver on their prey.

There are four main reasons crocodiles use this technique when taking down a target.

1. Crocodiles Use It To Disorient Their Prey 

Crocodiles like to use the twisting roll to get their prey and make them dizzy. When animals are underwater, crocodiles use the death roll, and they can’t easily fight back.

It gives the crocodiles more than enough time to kill them effectively.

These rotations happen fast and can disorient larger animals like water buffalo and zebras.

And if the prey doesn’t die from the initial bite, the dizziness and lack of oxygen cause the prey to drown. 

2. It Is Used To Kill Prey 

Crocodiles are formidable predators with jaws able to bend cast iron. Still, they use their whole bodies when hunting prey in the water.

They are masters at killing their prey underwater using the death roll.

They will roll their prey under the water until their neck breaks or hold them down and keep rolling them so they can’t come up for air and drown them.

crocodile swimming in water

3. The Death Roll Is Used To Break Up Food

As unappetizing as it sounds, crocodiles need help to break down their food. Their death roll is a practical way to break their food into smaller pieces. 

Crocodiles can’t chew their food; they can only swallow, so they use the death roll to help them get swallow-size pieces to eat.

Crocodiles smash their prey against the rocks to break them into smaller sections.

Quite a few have been seen wedging half of their prey between two stones and twisting off sections to break them into manageable pieces.

4. Crocodiles Use The Death Roll To Assert Dominance

The last reason crocodiles use the death roll is when they are defending their territory or if they are competing for a mate.

Then, the two opposed crocodiles will use the death roll as a combat technique to assert dominance.

The one that gives up first is the lesser and needs to leave if they are not killed first.

Is The Crocodile Death Roll Only Used Under Water?

Saltwater crocodiles are fiercely territorial and will not stand another crocodile in their territory, even if it means taking on their enemy on land.

The crocodile is a bit restricted on land as they don’t move as fast as they do in water, and their death roll is not as graceful on the ground, but it gets the job done and the message across with absolute clarity.

Most other species of crocodile are not overly territorial, though.

Do All Crocodile Species Use The Death Roll?

Because the crocodile death roll had only been observed in a few crocodile species, Herpetologists believed it was behavior specific to certain species.

However, in a recent study published in Ethology, Ecology & Evolution, the researchers did several tests to find out just how many species of crocodiles use death rolls.

They discovered that out of the 25 crocodile species, 24 species used the death roll. 

Surprisingly, among the species that exhibited the death roll was slender-snouted species, like the Indian gharial.

The slender-snouted crocodiles usually eat fish and small mammals that can be consumed in one big swallow. That is why most experts thought they would not use the death roll.

The study found that even if the crocodile eats small prey, they will use the death roll as a combat technique to defend themselves or compete for a mate.

They found that the aggression between these crocodiles became intense, and they would use biting and the death roll to assert their dominance and superiority over their rivals.

The only crocodile species that did not participate in a death roll was the Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman crocodile.

Just because this species didn’t use the death roll under observation doesn’t mean they don’t use the death roll in the wild, though. It only showed that they weren’t observed doing it during the experiment.

Crocodile with closed mouth and teeth showing

Do Baby Crocodiles Death Roll?

Baby crocodiles have been seen acting out the crocodile death roll when fighting over fish scraps. 

One was observed showing off to the other baby crocodiles and kept twisting the fish chunks into smaller pieces. 

Experts believe it is an instinctual action instilled in the crocodiles, like hunting and brumation.

Does The Death Roll Affect The Crocodile?

We can only imagine how dizzy and off-balance you might feel if we had to roll our food to death, but does it affect a crocodile?

It seems that the rolling and twisting only affect the prey of a crocodile and not the crocodile itself.

The crocodile doesn’t seem dizzy, making the death roll the most powerful technique in the crocodile’s hunting arsenal.

Will Crocodiles Use The Death Roll On Humans?

While we like to think that crocodiles will leave you alone, they will attack humans if you don’t leave them alone. 

They will treat a human like any other prey, and the person will be dragged underwater or to the ground (if the attack happened on land), and death rolled until you are dead.

Many crocodiles grow to at least 20 feet long, making them formidable predators. As a result, there are over 1000 fatalities yearly due to crocodilian attacks (This also includes alligators, gharials, and caimans, though). 

The number might be higher as many attacks go unreported.

There was an incident where a man was on vacation in the Philippines with his family. They took pictures of the places they visited. He went to spots where he found statues of still animals like a tortoise.

He would stand next to the figures and have his friends/family would take pictures. At one point, he climbed into a 12-foot pool because he wanted to take a picture with what he thought was a crocodile statue.

He approached the still statue-like reptile, and as he turned to take the picture, the crocodile attacked him and tried to drag him under the water. He escaped with a severely damaged arm but was lucky to still have his life.

Final Thoughts On The Crocodile Death Roll

The crocodile death roll is a dangerous and powerful move used by crocodiles to kill their prey. It is also used to assert dominance, break up food, and distort their prey.

This maneuver is executed both on land and underwater, and all species of crocodilian seem to be able to use it (only one species has not been observed performing it).

Even baby crocodiles have been observed using the death roll, which suggests that it may be an instinctual behavior.