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Why Do Crocodiles Roll?

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The crocodile is one of nature’s ultimate predators. He’s immensely strong, can lie in wait just under the water, invisible to his prey for hours, has a mouth full of razor sharp teeth and an extremely powerful bite. But he has one weakness; he can’t chew, so he moves his prey against his razor sharp teeth by rolling. As well as helping him eat, the crocodile roll has a number of other deadly functions too.

Overpowering Prey

The death roll isn’t just an underwater activity. If a croc gets into a fight with another croc, or even a human, he’ll use the death roll to overpower his adversary. The crucial difference between the water and dry land is that the roll is a lot more fluid in the water. On the land, the croc inevitably finds himself restricted by the friction of the terrain, but his roll is still deadly to whatever he’s got between his jaws.

Drowning Prey

When a croc hunts land animals, he typically waits for them to come to him. The watering hole is his most fertile feeding ground. The first thing he does when he’s captured the leg of a gazelle or the head of a young antelope is to pull his prize into the water. Then he flips his tail upward to start his death roll. As he rolls, he moves the prey further away from the water’s edge, reducing its chances of escaping. He also uses his momentum to drag its body downward. Once he’s got his prey fully submerged, all he need do is wait for it to drown.


The spinning motion of the roll disorientates the prey. Even if it were lucky enough to escape his jaws, it’d be too confused and disorientated to make an effective getaway. Once the prey is killed, however, the croc doesn’t stop rolling.

Mastication and Dismemberment

The roll is as much an eating as it is a killing technique. Crocs use their roll to thrash their prey against rocks to break up the carcass. Sometimes crocs will wedge the prey between two stones and then roll with the prey in their mouth to snap off bits of meat. For dismemberment purposes, the roll is as effective on land as it is underwater.