What Eats People, Part 7: Alligators and Crocodiles

You may be surprised to learn that two dangerous crocodilians occur in the US.

First, and better known, the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). It's not especially dangerous as crocodilians go, but it dispatches a person once every three years or so.

Then there's the American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), which can reach 20 feet in length. It lives in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and, in small numbers, a bit of Florida. It has a reputation for aggression. In 1999, a 70-year-old woman fishing from a bank of the Black River in Jamaica was taken by an American crocodile. Other fishermen rescued her, but they were too late to save her life. In 2002, an accused murderer escaped prison in Panama and fled to Costa Rica. News reports claimed he tried to return to Panama by swimming the River Terraba, but was killed and eaten by a crocodile. In 2007, an American crocodile took a five-year-old boy from the bank of the Tomatlan River in Mexico.

What Eats People, Part 6: Caimans and Crocodiles

There are 23 species of crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gharials, and all of them bite. Not all of them consider us viable prey, however. Some have narrow snouts built for catching fish; some are too small to tackle a human. But at least seven species take people as food on occasion. Here's your first helping.

The black caiman (Melanosuchus niger) of South America:

The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) of South America:

The mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) of India:

What Eats People, Part 5: Pigs

In his memoir of the Civil War, Ambrose Bierce recounts an interesting incident of scavenging:

There were bear galore and deer in quantity, and many a winter day, in snow up to his knees, did the writer of this pass in tracking bruin to his den, where, I am bound to say, I commonly left him. I agreed with my lamented friend, the late Robert Weeks, poet:

Pursuit may be, it seems to me,
Perfect without possession.

There can be no doubt that the wealthy sportsmen who have made a preserve of the Cheat Mountain region will find plenty of game if it has not died since 1861. We left it there.

Yet hunting and idling were not the whole of life's programme up there on that wild ridge with its shaggy pelt of spruce and firs, and in the riparian lowlands that it parted. We had a bit of war now and again. There was an occasional "affair of outposts"; sometimes a hazardous scout into the enemy's country, ordered, I fear, more to keep up the appearance of doing something than with a hope of accomplishing a military result. But one day it was bruited about that a movement in force was to be made on the enemy's position miles away, at the summit of the main ridge of the Alleghenies--the camp whose faint blue smoke we had watched for weary days.

All one bright wintry day we marched down from our eyrie; all one bright wintry night we climbed the great wooded ridge opposite. How romantic it all was; the sunset valleys full of visible sleep; the glades suffused and interpenetrated with moonlight; the long valley of the Greenbrier stretching away to we knew not what silent cities; the river itself unseen under its "astral body" of mist! Then there was the "spice of danger."

Once we heard shots in front; then there was a long wait. As we trudged on we passed something--some things--lying by the wayside. During another wait we examined them, curiously lifting the blankets from their yellow-clay faces. How repulsive they looked with their blood-smears, their blank, staring eyes, their teeth uncovered by contraction of the lips! The frost had begun already to whiten their deranged clothing. We were as patriotic as ever, but we did not wish to be that way. For an hour afterward the injunction of silence in the ranks was needless.

Repassing the spot the next day, a beaten, dispirited and exhausted force, feeble from fatigue and savage from defeat, some of us had life enough left, such as it was, to observe that these bodies had altered their position. They appeared also to have thrown off some of their clothing, which lay near by, in disorder. Their expression, too, had an added blankness--they had no faces.

As soon as the head of our straggling column had reached the spot a desultory firing had begun. One might have thought the living paid honors to the dead. No; the firing was a military execution; the condemned, a herd of galloping swine. They had eaten our fallen, but--touching magnanimity!--we did not eat theirs.

The shooting of several kinds was very good in the Cheat Mountain country, even in 1861.


The pig (Sus scrofa), in its domestic form or as the Eurasian wild boar, also takes living humans on occasion.

Next: More Man-Eaters

What Eats People, Part 4: Hammerhead Sharks

Large members of the hammerhead family Sphyrnidae have attacked and killed people, but it has not been possible to determine precisely which species are responsible. The scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini), the common smooth hammerhead (Sphyrna zygaena) and the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran) are all reasonable candidates. The latter has injured at least one person when provoked.

Great Hammerhead Shark

Scalloped Hammerhead Shark

Common Smooth Hammerhead Shark

What Eats People, Part 3: More Requiem Sharks

Previous Post in This Series

Two more requiem sharks are known to prey on people:

The oceanic whitetip (Carcharhinus longimanus) may have eaten more people than any other shark species, at least since sailing was invented. It cruises the open ocean and often takes shipwreck survivors.

The slender galapagos shark (Carcharhinus galapagensis) is aggressive and will fight people for their fish, but only one person is known to have died from an attack.

Two more requiem species have been suspected in human deaths:

The Ganges River shark (Glyphis gangeticus) may kill people. . . or it may have taken the blame for the deeds of the similar-looking bull shark.


A copper shark (AKA bronze whaler; Carcharinhus brachyurus) seems to have been the killer of a surfer near Gracetown, West Australia, in 2004.

Next: More Sharks

What Eats People, Part 2: Requiem Sharks

Most of the dangerous sharks in the world belong to the requiem family (Carcharinhidae). Of the 52 member species, about two dozen are dangerous to people. It's hard to tell the requiem sharks apart, so not everyone agrees on which species have actually killed people. There's no doubt about these:

The tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier) has killed surfers, divers, and the victims of shipwrecks.

The bull shark (a.k.a. Zambezi shark, Lake Nicaragua shark; Carcharhinus leucas) occasionally takes people in the ocean and even in rivers.

Video: National Geographic report on bull shark attacks:

The blue (a.k.a. blue whaler, great blue; Prionace glauca), famous for its feeding frenzies, is another shark prompt to take corpses and survivors of shipwrecks.

Video: Blue shark feeding:

More Info:
Shark Attacks: Inside the Mind of the Ocean's Most Terrifying Predator (National Geographic Shorts) by Gordon Grice

Next: More Requiem Sharks

Previous Post in This Series: Mackerel Sharks

What Eats People, Part 1: Mackerel Sharks

One of the first posts I ran on this blog was an attempt to document all the animals that prey on people. That was about 18 months ago, and in the meantime, I've been a busy little researcher, trying to track down cases and firm up the documentation. That's allowed me to add another group to my list and feel more confident about a couple of others. So, in pieces and as time permits, I'm presenting the revised list, with pictures.

What do I mean by preying on people? For purposes of this list, an animal has to kill the person. Scavenging doesn't count. Parasitism doesn't count either, even if it eventually kills the person. The animal has to inflict violence for the immediate purpose of eating the person. Since most animals won't tell you their intentions, I looked for evidence of predatory intent, including actual eating or an attempt at it.

Let's start with the sharks. There are more than 400 species of sharks. Most of them are harmless to people; some are dangerous in one way or another—for their bites, mostly, or their venomous spines. A few dozen have given people medically significant bites. Of these, only about ten are on record as killing people in what look like predatory attacks.

Three of these belong to a family called the mackerel sharks (Lamnidae):

The Great White Shark (AKA white pointer, white death; Carcharodon carcharias)

The Short-Fin Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus)

The Sandtiger (AKA gray nurse shark, sand shark; Carcharias taurus)

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