Alligators eat Sharks
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.
“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.
This alligator was spotted munching a nurse shark in a wildlife refuge on Sanibel Island, Florida. It helped to confirm that shark is part of some gators’ diets.
“They should change the textbooks,” says James Nifong. He is an ecologist who has spent years documenting the estuarine gator diet.
Nifong’s most recent discovery is that the American alligator eats at least three species of shark and two species of rays. He and wildlife biologist Russell Lowers report in the September Southeastern Naturalist.
To get a gator’s stomach contents, a researcher must hold his hand inside the animal’s mouth.
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. 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.
To snag an alligator, he uses a big blunted hook or, with smaller animals, just grabs the animal and hauls it into the boat. He gets a noose around its neck. Then the researchers tape the mouth shut, take body measurements and get blood or urine samples.
A birder photographed an alligator eating a bonnethead shark in a Florida salt marsh in 2006.
Once that’s out of the way, the team will strap the gator to a board with Velcro ties or rope. Then, it’s time to untape the mouth, quickly insert a piece of pipe to hold it open, and tape the alligator’s mouth around the pipe. The pipe, Nifong says, is there “so they can’t bite down.” And that’s important, because next someone has to stick a tube down the gator’s throat and hold it there to keep the animal’s throat open.