How to Escape an Alligator Attack

Alligators have been around in much their present state for more than 35 million years, though they have ancestors dating back more than 200 million years. In that time they have evolved into apex predators, threatened by no living creature other than a human being, assuming said human being is well-armed. The average size of an adult American alligator is 12 feet long, with an average weight of about 800 pounds. American alligators tend to have around 80 teeth and a bite force of up to 3,000 pounds per square inch. Also, they can swim at up to 20 miles per hour, while Olympian Michael Phelps tops out at around six mph in the water.

Should an alligator get those 80 teeth sunk into you with that 3,000 PSI jaw power while you are in the water, you’re not going to have a good day, especially once it starts doing a death roll, a maneuver designed both to incapacitate and dismember prey. So rule #1 of surviving an alligator attack is to not get bitten at all, and certainly not while you’re in the water. But it would still be overkill to avoid the entire state of Florida and much of the South more generally to avoid said bite.

alligator swamp
Cavan Images/Getty Images

If missing out on so many of America’s great cities, from Miami to New Orleans, sounds like a poor trade for the assurance you won’t be eaten by an alligator, then here are the steps to follow to improve your chances of surviving an alligator encounter.

Run Away Fast

Alligators can only run at speeds up to 11 miles per hour, and they can’t even maintain that speed for long. So if you are in anything approaching good health, you should be able to outrun a gator, and no need for zigzagging, either. Just run fast and keep it up a while.

Fight Back Hard

If an alligator gets its jaws locked onto you, don’t bother trying to pry them apart. Instead, you need to inflict enough pain to make it give up on the attack, which most gators will do, being unaccustomed to prey that mounts a defense.

Go for the Snout

Viciously attacking the tip of an alligator’s snout might make it release you. Strike with a foot or fist or, better yet, a large rock. Or best, a large knife.

Gouge the Eyes

This is life or death, people, so leave the PETA stuff out and gouge that gator right in the eye, with a knife or other tool if you have it. A successful jab will almost surely buy you a moment’s freedom in which to run.

alligator eyes
Matt Hansen Photography/Dynamic Wildlife Photography/Getty Images

The snout and eyes are the only points on an adult alligator’s body where you are going to inflict enough pain and damage to make it release its bite and, potentially, call off the attack and leave. But avoiding that bite in the first place? Still a better idea.

Hold the Jaw Shut

An adult in good health should be strong enough to hold an alligator’s jaws shut, so if you are in a position where you can’t make a break for it, wrap your arms around the gator’s head and hold its mouth closed. If you have rope or a belt (or duct tape), you might even be able to lash the jaws.

Roll with It

If you are caught in an alligator’s jaws and you sense it beginning a death roll, do your best to roll with the gator and don’t fight against the maneuver. This will make it less likely that you lose a limb, and as death rolls use a lot of a gator’s energy, you might get one more chance to fight back and break free after a roll.

Editors' Recommendations