An Alligator’s Quick Snapping Jaws

Excerpt from E.A. McIlhenny’s 1935 book, The Alligator’s Life History:

Young American Alligator in a roadside ditch in Stephen C Foster State Park showing its teeth. Okfenokee Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, Georgia. March 16, 2019. ©www.williamwisephoto.com.

“How quick an alligator can snap its jaws, was proven to me during the Spring of 1933. One Sunday afternoon I was walking with Doctor and Mrs. Crawford through my gardens when we came across a seven foot female alligator that had gotten out of its pen. Wishing to put it back, I picked up a small stick which I put on its top jaw pressing it closed. Holding the stick with my left hand, I reached with my right to catch the alligator by its two jaws so that I could tie them and then put it in the pen where it belonged. I was a bit careless and did not keep my hand in front of the alligator’s mouth, but approached it a little from the side, and just as I was about to grasp its closed jaws the stick I was pressing them together with broke, and before I could jerk my right hand away, the alligator with a snap as quick as a flash, caught the first finger of my hand in its mouth driving two teeth through at the joint. I was lucky enough, as it loosed my finger and made a grab for my hand, to jerk clear; for if it had caught my hand I would probably have lost the use of it.”  – Page 52


E.A. McIlhenny (1872 – 1949), of the McIlhenny Tabasco Sauce company, was a hunter, explorer and naturalist that established the Avery Island wildlife refuge on his family estate in Louisiana and wrote The Alligator’s Life History in 1935. While some of his statements are criticized by modern science, he was one of the most knowledgeable alligator experts in the country at the time. His work contains valuable information and entertaining anecdotes.

iNaturalist observation: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/22087784

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