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J Exp Biol. 2007 Aug;210(Pt 16):2811-8.

Death roll of the alligator: mechanics of twist feeding in water.

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Department of Biology, West Chester University, West Chester, PA 19383, USA.


Crocodilians, including the alligator (Alligator mississippiensis), perform a spinning maneuver to subdue and dismember prey. The spinning maneuver, which is referred to as the ;death roll', involves rapid rotation about the longitudinal axis of the body. High-speed videos were taken of juvenile alligators (mean length=0.29 m) performing death rolls in water after biting onto a pliable target. Spinning was initiated after the fore- and hindlimbs were appressed against the body and the head and tail were canted with respect to the longitudinal body axis. With respect to the body axis, the head and tail bending averaged 49.2 degrees and 103.3 degrees , respectively. The head, body and tail rotated smoothly and freely around their individual axes of symmetry at 1.6 Hz. To understand the dynamics of the death roll, we mathematically modeled the system. The maneuver results purely from conservation of angular momentum and is explained as a zero angular momentum turn. The model permits the calculation of relevant dynamical parameters. From the model, the shear force, which was generated at the snout by the juvenile alligators, was 0.015 N. Shear force was calculated to scale with body length to the 4.24 power and with mass to the 1.31 power. When scaled up to a 3 m alligator, shear force was calculated at 138 N. The death roll appears to help circumvent the feeding morphology of the alligator. Shear forces generated by the spinning maneuver are predicted to increase disproportionately with alligator size, allowing dismemberment of large prey.

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