You’ve probably seen footage of crocodiles and alligators, and have likely heard about how dangerous they are. At the very least, you know that crocodiles are super strong and can mess you up pretty bad with those big jaws and teeth. Somewhere along the line, people decided that if a gator or croc is chasing you, your best chance of survival is to run away in a zig-zag motion. It’s actually a pretty common idea, one that many of us have probably heard of before. But does this even work in the first place? Why do people zig-zag when running from crocodiles and alligators?
We’ll answer part of the question now; people don’t know much about alligators or crocodiles. Most of us struggle to tell the difference anyway. So chalk it up to people not knowing about reptiles and the relative infrequency of their attacks.
Oh, and if you’re wondering: Here’s the difference between alligators and crocodiles.
How Fast Are Crocs and Gators?
People conflate crocodiles and alligators a lot with the topic, suggesting that the zig-zag run trick applies to both crocs and gators.
Besides some subtleties in appearance, crocodiles prefer saltwater while alligators prefer fresh water. But they both have similar hunting patterns. And it turns out, both can sprint, on average, at around the same speed–roughly 11-12 miles per hour.
This stands in contrast to your average human. The fastest humans can run at about 28 miles per hour. So lucky for us squishy, soft mammals, since it means most able-bodied individuals would be able to outrun our angry reptilian friends in a straight sprint. In your face croc!
Luckily for you, you’re probably not going to be caught in a sprinting match with a crocodile, or alligator, any time soon. For one, your chances of actually encountering one of these animals outside is pretty low. Most of us don’t live in areas where they’re present–unless we’re talking about sewer alligators or something.
Secondly, both alligators and crocodiles are ambush predators. They’re not out running after food. They wait patiently for food to come to them. So… By the time an alligator or crocodile has surprised you and clamped down on some juicy human-thigh, it’s probably too late.
But, just like humans, crocodiles and alligators are lazy. They would much rather just swallow their prey whole and not have to put up a fight. What we’re trying to say is that humans are rather inconvenient food. Long short, most crocodiles or alligators won’t feel like eating you.
Should You Zig-Zag When Running From Crocodiles?
The short answer is no, you should not. And here’s why.
We’ve outlined that our friends here are ambush predators. We’ve also outlined how fast crocodiles and alligators are. Namely, they aren’t very fast compared to us humans.
So on land, you should 100% seek to just outrun an alligator or crocodile. Which means not running in the signature zig-zag serpentine formation. Logically, you’re able to cover more distance in less time if you go in a straight line, opposed to curving around. Just run fast and straight Forrest Gump-style and you should be fine.
Just don’t get into the water with them.
See You Later, Alligator?
Now, if an alligator or crocodile grabs you in the water, you’re a lot more screwed. For starters, their jaws will probably have latched onto you because you were near the water and have been ambushed.
Once ambushed, the alligator or crocodile will go into a “death roll.” That is to say they’ll basically flop around until you drown or otherwise die. Gator jaw strength numbers in the thousands of pounds per square inch. Therefore, you’re not going to have any luck prying those toothy clamps open. If you’re ambushed you should therefore put your efforts into being inconvenient. Scream, punch, and most importantly, stick your fingers in their eyes.
Just whatever you do, forget that stupid thing about running serpentine. This is why you shouldn’t zig-zag from when running from crocodiles. Or alligators.
Like reptiles? Test your knowledge with this fun quiz: Reptiles of North America.