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Do Alligators Eat Humans? (The Truth)

Alligators tend to have a bad reputation. We often fear them more than we do most wild animals. Our minds automatically go to people and pets being snatched and gobbled up by these monster reptiles. Some people have even asked: do alligators eat humans?

The stories of alligators appearing out of nowhere, grabbing folks with their huge mouths, and dragging them into the water are terrifying! But are alligators really doing this, or is the hysteria surrounding these scaly creatures a bit overblown? You’ll find it’s more the latter than the former.

Do Alligators Eat Humans?

Alligator claws
Alligator claws | image by Shannon Kringen via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

Alligators can eat humans, it’s true. These massive reptiles are more than capable of doing so and there are some recorded cases. However, it’s important to keep in mind that humans are not a part of an alligator’s natural diet, alligators will not purposely hunt humans, and instances where an alligator has actually devoured a human are very rare. 

In fact, alligators are fairly lazy when it comes to their prey. Frankly, humans are too much work. Alligators prefer smaller, easy to catch prey that can easily fit in their mouths. Such as:

  • turtles
  • snakes
  • frogs
  • fish
  • birds
  • crawfish
  • small mammals

More over, alligators are actually quite afraid of humans. Not only will they not hunt us down, but they will usually avoid us unless they are protecting a nest, feel threatened, or are provoked.

So, we are not first choice on their menu. However, if they are given the opportunity, they may eat at least part of a human. It’s more likely that they will eat a corpse that they come across than a live human.

This is not to say you should be careless in areas where alligators may be. Especially rivers, lakes, swamps, and creeks in the Southern United States and Asia, where most attacks occur.

Cases Where Alligators Have Eaten Humans (or parts of them)

American Alligator
American Alligator | image by JakeWilliamHeckey via Pixabay

In the United States, Florida currently has the most recorded number of alligator attacks. Between 1948 and 2021 there were 442 attacks by alligators on humans. Of these, 26 were fatal and only a handful of the people (or parts of them), were consumed.

Other states where alligator attacks have occurred and humans have been eaten include Louisiana, Texas, and South Carolina. Some of these cases include:

  1. A 71 year old man in Louisiana. This man went outside after hurricane Ida to fix something on his house. Despite his wife’s protests, he waded through the flood waters where his wife then saw an enormous alligator rise up and take his arm, dragging him under the water. Sadly, his remains were later found inside the 500 pound alligator.
  2. A female in her 40s was walking her dog near a pond in Davie, Florida was killed by a 12 foot alligator. Witnesses said they saw the alligator dragging her into the water. The animal was captured, euthanized, and her arm was recovered from its stomach.
  3. A 22 year old robbery suspect who was hiding from police near Barefoot Bay in Melbourne, Florida went missing. His body was found near an aggressive alligator. When the alligator was euthanized, remains belonging to the man were found in its stomach.
  4. A 47 year old man from Florida was recovered from an alligator infested lake. He was missing 3 limbs. Two alligators were taken from the lake but nothing was found. The other gators were not examined.
  5. In 2019, a 45 year old Florida man drowned in a canal in Polk county. In keeping with how alligators are opportunistic feeders, his body was eaten by an alligator.
  6. These rare incidents don’t just occur in the Southern United States. In 2019, a 10 year old boy from the Philippines was on a fishing boat when a large alligator grabbed him and disappeared. Tragically, fishermen found the boys’ half-eaten remains days later.
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Keep in mind, these are extreme cases

These are extreme cases where people were killed and eaten by alligators. The vast majority of fatal attacks end with the body being left in tact.

Such as the very sad case of the 2 year old child walking near a lake at Disney World. The toddler, walking with his parents, got too close to the lake. An alligator emerged from the water and grabbed the child.

His father jumped in to save him, but was also attacked by another alligator (he survived). The toddler was later found deceased, his body fully intact.

How To Avoid/Survive An Alligator Attack

Chinese Alligator on rocks
Chinese Alligator on rocks | image by Tony Alter via Flickr | CC BY 2.0

The best ways to avoid an alligator attack include:

  1. Steer clear of their habitats. Alligators are extremely territorial, especially during the mating season, which is May through June.
  2. Do not approach their nests.
  3. Take warning signs seriously. Do not swim, boat, or lounge in waterways that have posted alligator warnings.
  4. Stay away from waterways beginning at dusk. Though an attack can take place at any time, they become more active in the evening hours.
  5. Do not feed alligators or any wildlife in areas where alligators may be. Alligators don’t typically think of us as food, but the more people feed them, the more they associate us as a food source.
  6. Should an alligator grab you, the best way to escape is to gouge at its eyes. Punching and kicking it in the head has also been known to work.
  7. Alligators will, on rare occasions, eat humans. However, the fear that they are constantly lurking, waiting to shoot up out of the water, chase us down, and devour us is not really not true.
  8. There will always be tragic accidents and exceptions. But, if we respect their habitat and use caution, alligators will usually leave people alone.