Greg Erickson of Florida State University said he and his colleagues had wondered just how hard alligators and crocodiles can bite.
The answer? A bite force value of 3,700 pounds for a 17-foot saltwater crocodile, the highest bite force ever recorded, Florida State reported Thursday.
But it's nothing compared with the largest extinct crocodilians, Erickson said, 35- to 40-foot animals that bit at forces as great as 23,100 pounds.
Measuring bite force in a living crocodile or alligator is dangerous work, he said.
"I have to admit, the first time I placed our meter into the maw of an adult crocodile, I was nervous. It was all over in the blink of an eye.
"When it struck, it nearly wrested my grip from the handle. The noise of the jaws coming together was like a gunshot. The power of the animal was astounding, and the violence of the event frightening."
Gators and crocs have similar maximal bite-force capacity pound for pound, he said, because they basically all have the same musculoskeletal design, just different snouts and teeth.
"It is analogous to putting different attachments on a weed eater -- grass cutter, brush cutter, tree trimmer, they all have the same type of engine," Erickson said. "There are bigger and smaller engines, with higher and lower horsepower, but they have the same attachments."
If there's one lesson to be taken from his research, he said, it's to keep a good distance between yourself and the nearest crocodile.
"If you can bench-press a pickup truck, then you can escape a croc's jaws," Erickson warned. "It is a one-way street between the teeth and stomach of a large croc."