Alligators Eat Sharks — And A Whole Lot More

2017-11-03T11:55:11+00:00 November 3, 2017|

(Click to enlarge) Photo credit: Allison Hays

Alligators don’t just stick to freshwater and the prey they find there. These crafty reptiles can live quite easily, at least for a bit, in salty waters and find plenty to eat — including crabs, sea turtles and even sharks.

(From Science News / by Sarah Zielinski) — “They should change the textbooks,” says James Nifong, an ecologist with the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at Kansas State University in Manhattan, who has spent years documenting the estuarine gator diet.

Nifong’s most recent discovery, splashed all over the news last month, is that the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensiseats at least three species of shark and two species of rays, he and wildlife biologist Russell Lowers report in the September Southeastern Naturalist.

Lowers captured a female gator with a young Atlantic stingray in her jaws near where he works at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. And he and Nifong gathered several other eyewitness accounts: A U.S. Fish and Wildlife employee spotted a gator consuming a nurse shark in a Florida mangrove swamp in 2003. A birder photographed an alligator eating a bonnethead shark in a Florida salt marsh in 2006. One of Nifong’s collaborators, a marine turtle researcher, saw gators consuming both bonnethead and lemon sharks in the late 1990s. And Nifong found yet another report of a gator eating a bonnethead shark in Hilton Head, S.C., after their paper was published. All of these snacks required gators to venture into salty waters.

But shark may not be the most surprising item on the alligator estuarine menu. Nifong spent years catching hundreds of wild gators and pumping their stomachs to figure out what they eat, work that relies “on electrical tape, duct tape and zip ties,” Nifong says. And he found that the menu is pretty long.

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