Study Reveals Alligators Will Do Anything For A Tasty Morsel — Even Venture Into Salty Waters!


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Amercian Alligator chows down nurse shark in Florida (Photo Credit US Fish and Wildlife Service)

The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is known to be a crafty and fierce predator that devours anything it can snare. However, given that the reptile lacks salt glands, scientists had always believed that its diet was restricted to the fish and crustaceans that dwell in its freshwater habitat. Now, a new study suggests that the opportunistic beasts also gobble down saltwater inhabitants like crabs, sea turtles, stingrays, and even sharks.

James Nifong, an ecologist at Kansas State University who has been studying the alligators’ diet for nine years, stumbled upon this discovery when he captured a female gator with a young Atlantic stingray in her jaws. Since then, he and wildlife biologist Russell Lowers have documented three separate instances of alligators preying on a lemon shark, a nurse shark, and a bonnethead shark. While the stingrays and sharks, which ranged from two-feet to four-feet long, were small, the researchers speculate that larger alligators might be attacking bigger sharks as well. Also, the preying is not a one-way street – sharks have been observed eating American alligators as well. Nifong says, “Both are known for their extreme eating habits, and both are highly opportunistic predators. So, when presented with a potential opportunity to feed, they are not likely to pass it up.”

Alligator with bonnethead shark in Hilton SC (Photo Credit: Chris Cox)

The scientists say despite their different habitats, sharks and rays frequently share the water with alligators. The saltwater inhabitants often swim into the freshwater, while the reptiles are resourceful enough to survive in the brackish estuarine waters for short periods of time if a tasty morsel is in sight. According to Nifong, “Alligators seek out fresh water in high-salinity environments. When it rains really hard, they can actually sip fresh water off the surface of the salt water. That can prolong the time they can stay in a saltwater environment."

Adam Rosenblatt, an ecologist at the University of North Florida, believes the reason it took so long for researchers to discover the reptiles’ saltwater diet is that both alligators and sharks are hard to track and observe in the wild. Since the gators eat smaller sharks, their prey could also easily be mistaken for fish. The expert says it is also difficult to find evidence of sharks or stingrays in the reptiles’ stomachs because “most prey gators eat turn to mush pretty quickly within their stomachs. It all turns into one big pile of indistinguishable stuff, except for certain body parts like hair and shells.” Nifong, who has examined the guts of over 500 alligators and never found any evidence, agrees with this theory.

Though the gator’s dietary range is undoubtedly impressive, the study, published in the peer-reviewed journal Southeastern Naturalist in October 2017, unveils a more significant finding — the ecological impact of the reptiles’ regular trips between fresh and salty waters. Nifong says as they move between the two habitats, the gators help transport nutrients from the rich marine waters to the fresh waters. Since the phenomenon occurs in gator habitats across the US southeast, the researcher believes it has a big effect on estuarine food webs — information that is very helpful when planning for conservation efforts.


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  • 7sushigirl7
    7sushigirl7Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 10:45 am
    nice my favorite crocadilions is the gavial!
    • croclover82
      croclover82Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 9:00 am
      What about Crocs does anybody like them?
      • therealsnakes
        therealsnakesMonday, November 23, 2020 at 9:21 am
        Cool XD
        • goodvibes100
          goodvibes100Monday, July 13, 2020 at 5:13 pm
          # OMG
          • leiker1414
            leiker1414Friday, July 10, 2020 at 9:52 am
            I don't !like alligators. And I never ever ever ever EVER will. But it is pretty sad 😢. I feel bad for that poor poor sharky. Even tho I don't like sharks.
            • 7sushigirl7
              7sushigirl7Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 10:46 am
              what!? My favorite type of crocodilian is a gavial
            • 11008800
              11008800Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 11:47 am
              Sharks is my favorite animal.
              • leiker1414
                leiker1414Friday, July 10, 2020 at 9:49 am
                Wow. 😎. 😓. 😲. 👎. I don't like sharks they eat my favorite animal. ( If u were wondering what my favorite animal is. It is a dolphin. Or a seal. or a panda 🐼. ).
              • 11008800
                11008800Thursday, July 9, 2020 at 11:47 am
                That so cool and yet disgusting.
                • ultrajango
                  ultrajangoWednesday, May 6, 2020 at 7:37 am
                  that is so cool I wonder how they do that.
                  • traeheart77
                    traeheart77Thursday, January 9, 2020 at 8:36 am
                    I have been stung by a stingray before
                    • kath648
                      kath648Tuesday, January 5, 2021 at 6:22 am
                      Ouch! Did it hurt?
                      • 7sushigirl7
                        7sushigirl7Thursday, May 6, 2021 at 10:47 am
                        i know someone who got a jellyfish sting!
                    • CoolgirlSunday, September 15, 2019 at 7:07 pm