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What to Do if You're Attacked by an Alligator

Alligators won't run you down on the street. But th­ey will sneak up on you in the water. Although it feels like an unfortunate surprise for the victim, the alligator's style of attack­ is very predictable. It latches onto its prey and begins what is known as the death roll. It rolls over and over until its prey is dead, usually by drowning but occasionally from loss of blood.

The alligator then juggles the prey around in its mouth so that it can toss it down its throat. The massive jaw that allows it to hang onto its prey so securely also prevents it from easily chewing and swallowing. This is one reason why larg­e prey presents a problem for an alligator. To eat something large, the alligator must rip pieces from the prey and swallow them separately. And it doesn't like that task.

If you think an alligator is approaching you, run. It doesn't matter if you run in a zigzag or a straight line. You should be able to easily outrun an alligator. If it seems to be gaining on you, don't panic. Alligators not only have little endurance, but they also don't really care to pursue their prey. If an alligator misses its first opportunity to grab its victim, it typically moves on to something else.

If you're caught unaware at the ed­ge of the water or in the water, which is a more likely scenario, you have less chance to evade the alligator. In the water, the alligator has home field advantage; it's got you right where it wants you. So a water attack is a worst-case scenario. If you feel the alligator's jaw clamp down on you, resist. Don't waste time trying to pry its jaw open, which is nearly impossible. Instead scream, splash and generally create as much confusion for the alligator as possible. As soon as you can get a clear shot, drive your thumb or fingers directly into its eye. This is the most sensitive area of the alligator's body, and the combination of pain and surprise should be enough to cause the alligator to release you.

Occasionally, a bad-tempered alligator may not give up the fight. As a last ditch effort, you may want to play dead. The alligator releases dead prey as it prepares to maneuver it back into its throat. This can provide you the opportunity to escape. It's a risky plan, however, and if the alligator has you in the water, you should do everything possible to prevent it from going into a death roll.

The words "death roll" don't sound good, do they? It's probably best to avoid a meeting with an alligator altogether. Find out how to play it safe in gator country on the next page.