Simply put, an alligator will eat practically any prey that contains meat, as long as it is of the right size
to seize and kill. Given the plethora of prey available it will, from
hatching into adulthood eat
insects, fish, crustaceans, frogs and toads, birds, other alligators, snakes,
turtles, small mammals, and, if it is hungry and large enough, will
capture and eat large mammals as well.
Is this image real? It is. A
large alligator can certainly take adult deer or even larger
prey. This kind of predation is dependent on the size, health
and motivation of the alligator. This photo, along with others
of the event, has circulated the Internet with fanciful tales
attached to it. Learn the facts,
PREDATION. In its first three years or so, from hatching to
juvenility, it will progress from taking smaller prey like insects,
crayfish, minnows and frogs, to seizing progressively larger fish
and birds, small mammals like mice, rats and rabbits, birds, snakes, and
others relative to their size.
adult gator will accept the same meals, but with its mass and
power in its favor, will opt for bigger game if it pleases. Its
opportunistic nature, however, usually prompts it to go for moderately-sized prey.
A common belief seems to be that the crocodilian may "store" a
prey carcass near the bank of a water body or near a log; until
it desires to eat it while such a scenario has no basis in fact.
Sometimes prey will be taken by the crocodilian but not eaten,
and the carcass will simply float until it is stopped by static
obstacle, such as the water bank, a lodged log or vegetation.
VEGETATION. Alligators in captivity have been
observed eating fruits and vegetables (including water plants), a behavior
surprising to many experts when initially reported;
the alligator is an ominvore, predominantly carnivorous.
INGESTION. When taking larger prey, the crocodilian will dismember the
body, doing so by spinning furiously on the central axis of its
tubular body, in rorder to forcibly detach bone, joint and
tendon; the reptile has no ability to use its claws for handling
food, so it must rely on powerful jaws and force of body; even
gravity will be exploited, by the alligator thrusting its head upwards to let the food slip
down its throat. The alligator will also jerk its head from side
to side in order to break food, its teeth serving as perforators
of the prey flesh.
In the photograph at left, a
subadult alligator has taken a
young moorhen.(Image: N.
Crocodilians have been observed eating underwater, being able to
close the flap to the trachea to block water intrusion, while
opening access to the esophagus for swallowing.
The crocodilian has been known to ingest hard objects such as stones
which may serve as gastroliths in the stomach, much as
such objects do in the stomachs of birds. The friction of the
ingested objects may contribute to the breakdown of food items.
The hair/fur of prey items is not digested, but regurgitated by
the alligator as a "fur ball", similar to that of a cat.
DIGESTION & WASTE. Eating will mostly or entirely pause
during the cold months, since the alligator will experience diminished
efficiency digesting food as temperatures drop and the reptile may eat
less or cease eating when the temperature dips
below 80° F/ 27° C. Enduring without food for a few months is not a problem
provided it possesses enough stored fat, as its slow and efficient
metabolism will maintain the energy storage until springtime. If the
reptile consumes food amid cold temperature, the food cannot digest and sits unprocessed in the
digestive system. Food digestion may take several days or up to about
two weeks, depending on ambient temperature of the animal's environment.
Acid in the stomach breaks down the meat (and bone) ingested. Waste,
including urine, is expelled from the body through
the cloaca, (Interestingly, the crocodilian has
CANNIBALISM. As mentoned above, alligators have such a
strong and indiscriminate feeding instinct that they will eat
their own kind.
The amateur video above dramatically captures the
alligator's cannibalistic behavior.
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