Skip to main content

How to escape and survive an alligator attack

If the situation calls for it, here are some things to help you live through an unfortunate encounter with a gator

Alligator in a swamp
Cavan Images / Getty Images

Alligators have been around in much of their present state for more than 35 million years, though they have ancestors dating back more than 200 million years. In that time, they’ve evolved into apex predators, threatened by no living creature other than a human being, assuming said human being is 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 6 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 number one 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.

Tips for an alligator encounter

Alligator eyes
Matt Hansen Photography / Dynamic Wildlife Photography / 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 there’s 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. The snout and eyes are the only points on an adult alligator’s body where you can 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.

Can alligators eat humans?

Image used with permission by copyright holder

Yes, alligators can eat humans. As mentioned above, alligators are large predators with powerful jaws and sharp teeth, making them strong enough to overpower a human and certainly eat a human. However, eating a human it’s necessarily their top priority, as alligators typically prefer smaller prey, such as fish, frogs, turtles, birds, and snakes. They are opportunistic eaters and will go for the easiest meal they can find. Humans aren’t their usual targets. Also, alligator attacks on humans are relatively rare.

Editors' Recommendations

Steven John
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Steven John is a writer and journalist living just outside New York City, by way of 12 years in Los Angeles, by way of…
Campfire cooking: This is the absolute best way to make a pot hanger
Make the most of campfire cooking with this ingenious pot hanger guide
A campfire pot hanger holds a kettle over a stone circle

Campfire cooking is an art form. Sure, you can always just skewer a sausage or a s'more and roast it directly over the heat, but with a little camping cooking gear, you can elevate your camp cooking to new heights. With the cooler nights of fall just around the corner, camp cooking becomes even more important, as you'll need the extra calories to stay warm overnight. There are plenty of styles of campfire cooking to explore, and a suspended pot over your fire is one of the most versatile.

By hanging a pot or a kettle over your fire, you can keep your dish away from direct heat, but retain a rolling boil or a gentle simmer. This means you can always have hot water ready and waiting for a cup of coffee, heat yourself a cowboy casserole of beans and ground beef to pour over a biscuit, or simmer a stew for a substantial meal under the stars.

Read more
Dust off your gear, it’s time to hit the trail: The spring hiking tips you need
These tips will keep you safe and comfortable on the trail
A person hiking

I don't know about you, but I love the fact that spring is here, and I can hit the trail again. I went out the other day without having to load up in all of my outdoor layers and enjoyed a trail run along some snow-free tracks. It's that time of year when you can dust off your hiking boots, dig out your trekking poles, and start to make some hiking plans. But spring isn't all sunshine and dry tracks. A little like fall hiking, spring trails can be muddy, and some of the wettest, coldest days I've had on the trail have come in springtime. Maybe it's not quite a time to pack away all that warm gear after all.

Spring is changeable. That's what I'm getting at. It's perhaps the toughest time of the year to pack a hiking pack because, on any given day, you might need to change layers four times. The days are long enough to get a good hike done, but you can still find yourself caught out after dark if you're not careful, and once that sun drops, the temperature goes with it. In return, though, spring rewards us with those golden hours at sunrise and sunset — the outdoor photographer's dream — raging waterfalls as the snow melts off, and the sounds and sights of nature coming back to life after a winter's hibernation. It's great if you get it right, and if you follow our spring hiking tips, you won't go far off track.
Dress and pack accordingly

Read more
The best long-distance bike trails across the U.S.
Bikepacking trails or new places to adventure on two wheels
Sunset at the Continental Divide in Colorado Rocky Mountains

Bikepacking, more commonly known as bicycle touring, is a self-supported trip in which participants spend days, weeks, or even years traveling across regions, countries, and continents via bicycle. One of its greatest perks is the opportunity to explore amazing places.

Whether you’re traveling to a new city or region, there’s no better way to do this than on two wheels. You can cover more miles when pedaling using your bike shoes rather than walking and, unlike driving, you’re still connected to your environment -- no carbon footprint, just fresh air.

Read more