ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 4c:  FEEDING 3
This page was born 07/05/2008.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 
07/14/2015
Images and contents on this page copyright 2001-2015  Richard M. Dashnau 

Most people have seen programs on television showing crocodiles attacking large animals like deer and cattle. While this is amazing, and sometimes horrifying, those creatures are not alligators. The function of a crocodile's dentition is somewhat different than an alligator's. Alligators favor prey items that will fit inside their head. That is, if they can swallow it whole, then they will normally attack it. While I've heard witnesses tell of alligators taking deer in the park, the prey was very small fawns. Alligators have also been seen with large nutria. But, most of the time, they will eat things like small fish, frogs, and crayfish. Snakes and turtles are also pursued, with alligators seeming to be especially well-adapted for eating turtles. A recent study done in Texas examined the stomach contents of about 50 alligators (which were unharmed). Research showed that only one of these alligators had eaten a bird (which couldn't be identified, it might have already been carrion when taken), and the rest had stomach full of small fish and shellfish.  I've seen 11-foot alligators going after prey that was no larger than their largest teeth (very small frogs and fish). 

December 04, 2005--  I hadn't been at the park long before I saw the alligator in the image below.
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It had a small mammal in its jaws.  I was a little concerned the dead animal might be an otter so I watched and waited to see if I could get some pictures while the alligator manipulated it. After a long time, the alligator shifted its position...moving a little further up onto the bank. Some time later, it moved up a little further. My patience was finally rewarded when the alligator began crushing and moving the prey. The three images (toss 3, 4, 5) are photos I shot in a short burst. The fifth image is a frame from a video clip of the alligator chewing the prey, which is a large rodent. The large orange incisors are visible at the head. The dead rodent is probably a nutria. I've cut a segment out of this clip showing two "chews" at the alligator tosses, crushes, then tosses and crushes the nutria. This short segment is also shown in a frame-by-frame slow-motion sequence in which you can see how the alligators jaws catch and reposition the prey. However at the end of the full clip, another alligator makes an appearance from behind. This really made things a bit more interesting, and I show a frame from the clip in which the new alligator can be seen. (see THIS COULD BE TROUBLE, below)
       -     ---
                       RANCID BREAKFAST                                                     BREAKFAST CLOSEUP                                                    TOSSING, PICTURE 1                                           TOSSING, PICTURE 2

       -   ----
                     TOSSING, PICTURE 3                                                              SEE? FOOD.                                                        THIS COULD BE TROUBLE                                      THE WALKING CHASE
                                        FULL CHEWING CLIP 1592kb                                                 WALKING CHASE CLIP 1811kb
                                        2CHEWS ONLY CLIP  280kb
                                        2 CHEWS SLOW MOTION CLIP 1546kb

It's important to note that there was little sound. The chewing alligator had moved entirely onto land. In fact, I had thought it was going to cross the trail, but was stopped by the tangled branches of an old fallen tree. As the alligator with the mouthful paused (as shown in THIS COULD BE TROUBLE, above), the "new" alligator moved forward, as if it intended to walk over the chewing alligator. This movement wasn't hurried, and wasn't accompanied by any sound. The alligator moved forward, and then "my" alligator started moving. I was taken by surprise. These alligators were both about 8 feet long, and here they were walking towards me! Although there was no sound, and they weren't running, there was a sort of intensity to their movements nonetheless. I moved out of the way ( at least I hoped it would be out of the way) and tried to film what happened. The next clip shows them as they walked by about 8 feet from me and then re-entered the water. The image above is a frame from this clip as they walked away from me (see THE WALKING CHASE) above. I had been shooting through my tele-adaptor, and had to zoom out to catch the alligators as they walked by. I said they were close! Any, this explaines the circular vignetting that you will see on part of the clip.  I just couldn't get over the menace conveyed as they walked implacably by. Once the alligators were in the water, things became even more interesting.
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                      CHASE IN THE WATER                                                     CHASE CONTINUES                                                I'VE HAD ENOUGH
   FIRST SPEED TURN CLIP 1111kb   STRAIGHT CHASE CLIP 618kb    SPLASH AND DIVE CLIP  3031kb
                                                                                              SPLASH AND DIVE SLOW MOTION CLIP  1165kb

The next picture (CHASE IN THE WATER, above) is a frame from a video clip showing the first evasion attempt. The pursued alligator swims straight, then turns and accelerates (the tail splashes the water) 90 degrees to the right. The pursuer pauses briefly, then accelerates to catch up. The pursuer turned left, and was followed closely behind by the pursuer. This is shown in the straight chase clip, a frame of which is shown above (see CHASE CONTINUES). The pursuer seemed to be trying to crawl on top of the alligator is was chasing. It didn't try to grab with its mouth, but just tried to overtake the alligator. Both alligators paused briefly, as they do after strenuous activity. While they rested, more alligators appeared on the scene. One of these, although smaller, seemed rather brazen. It swam up to the "pursuer" alligator, moving towards its head as if it knew that someone had something good to eat in its mouth. The pursuing alligator turned away from this upstart and towards the "nutria alligator" it had chased before. Nutria-gator had evidently had enough, and with a quick burst of speed that lifted it partly out of the water, it dove. This is shown in the "splash and dive" clip and the image above "I'VE HAD ENOUGH!". I have another clip linked above showing the dive in slow motion. In that clip you can see that the pursuer had its mouth open slightly as Nutria-gator dove.
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                        WHERE DID HE GO?                                                    A GANG OF GATORS                                                PRETTY CRAFTY ALLIGATOR                                           WE'VE LOST IT....
                                         GANG SWIMMING CLIP 1673kbSNEAKY SWIMMING  CLIP 1111kb  CONFUSED POSSE  CLIP 759kb 

 After the dive and turbulance, the other alligators milled around in confusion. There were now about 4 other alligators in the area. The image above "see WHERE  DID HE GO?", shows the alligators looking in different directions, and apparently trying to discern where the nutria-gator has gone. Then they seemed to swim in formation as seen in the image above (see GANG OF GATORS) which is a frame from the "gang clip" linked above. In the clip you can see that as they are swimming, one of them (a larger one and possibly the original pursuer) breaks off and turns back towards the left. Through all this, I was amazed by many things. Through all this interaction, I didn't observe even one tail-arch, or any other signal I have come to recognise as an alligator challenge or answer.  Then there was this swimming in formation.  Also, why did they all swim in that direction? What did they sense? Finally, the large on broke formation (if it was a formation) and swam back towards where the nutria had disappeared. WHY did it do that?
Meanwhile, Nutria-gator had surfaced, and was swimming very quietly near the island, as shown in the "sneaky swimming" clip and the image above. (see PRETTY CRAFTY GATOR, above. The red vertical line is right aove the alligator.) Although at this point, I couldn't be sure this was Nutria-gator, later events bore out my assumption. Finally, the alligator "gang" stopped, and seemed to be watching in all directions. The last image (see WE'VE LOST IT, above) and the clip "confused posse" shows the foiled pursuers.

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               COMING UP ON SHORE                                FINAL TOSS 01                                                  AND GRAB                                              GRAB CLOSEUP
-    -    -
                 READY FOR TOSS                                         FINAL TOSS O2                                           FINAL GRAB                  

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                 I CAN'T BELIEVE I ATE IT                                           GOT TO GET IT DOWN! 

But, that still wasn't the end, although the drama had passed.  Nutria-gator came back to my side of 40-Acre Lake, and ended up about 25 yards down from where the alligator posse still waited. It came close to the bank, and rested. It lifted its head a few times, but didn't chew. Evidently if still felt threatened because it moved about 3 more "gator lengths" (about 24 feet) further down the shoreline and further away from the other large alligators. Then, it moved partly up on the bank. Finally, with just a few quick jaw movements, the nutria vanished into the alligator's mouth. Then it took a few more minutes to work the bulk down its throat by lifting its head. Note the highly arched tail as the alligator worked on this. The images below show the final disposal of the large aquatic rodent. There is a group of 5 photos shot in burst mode. with a few singles.
All of this took just under two hours. And to think that I expected to see little activity (which is why I didn't have my tripod); because of the approaching cold front. I still can't get over how aware the alligators seemed to be; and those evasive maneuvers seemed pretty impressive considering the small size of the alligator's brain. I'm glad this happened, because the alligators have never been far from my thoughts. I just haven't had the time to bring any of my observations to these pages for some time. All that happened that day was just too great NOT to put here.

July 10, 2005--  I was walking (yes WALKING!, with a cane, but WALKING!) around Elm Lake Sunday morning. As they have been for about a month, small alligators (3 to 4 feet long) were been lying among the "coontail" weeds on the surface of the lake. From time to time, one would jump or lunge at something in the water. Also, gar fish (they look like Spotted Gar to me) were breaking the surface from time to time, gulping air.  I noticed a park visitor watching the water intently, and occasionally lifting a set of binoculars to her eyes. I approached slowly until we could speak quietly, and she told me that an alligator (about 4 feet long) that was lying there had a snake in its mouth, and was holding it under the water.
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                      QUIT MOVIN' SO I CAN SWALLOW YOU                                          DOWN IT GOES!!                                                      THE TIP OF THE TAIL  
I got my camera ready, and was looking through the viewfinder when the alligator raised its head. Yep! It had a snake for sure! I was only able to snap 3 pictures (I didn't use "burst" mode) before the snake vanished down the alligator's throat. I couldn't tell what species the snake was (it disappeared too quickly, and I couldn't see a head) but I know what kind of snake is was. A dead one. Note that the alligator had to lift its head, and make short "lunges" up with its jaws to help the snake fall down its throat. (See the three pictures above, QUIT MOVIN', DOWN IT GOES, and TIP OF THE TAIL).
People often ask me what alligators eat. The answer is: Just about anything they can catch and swallow. Snakes also fit this general description.
It was good to be back at the park!

If you'd like to know more about the park follow these links:

Brazos Bend State Park   The main page.

Brazos Bend State Park Volunteer's Page  The volunteer's main page.

Here are a few links to more information on alligators. There's a LOT of it out there.

    Crocodilian.com


 Here are my "alligator behavior" pages:

SOCIAL INTERACTIONCONFLICT AND CANNIBALISMFEEDINGBABY ALLIGATORSALLIGATOR DENSALLIGATORS ON LANDFOSSIL CROCS
SIGNALS 1CONFLICT 1FEEDING 1BABIES 1DENS 1ON LAND 1FOSSILS 1
SIGNALS 2CONFLICT 2FEEDING 2BABIES 2ON LAND 2
SIGNALS 3CONFLICT 3FEEDING 3BABIES 3ON LAND 3
SIGNALS 4FEEDING 4BABIES 4ON LAND 4
SIGNALS 5FEEDING 5BABIES 5ON LAND 5
SIGNALS 6FEEDING 6BABIES 6ON LAND 6
SIGNALS 7
ON LAND 7
SIGNALS 8

And, this page shows alligators at the park, on land, near various landmarks at the park.

           Go back to my main alligator page, Alligators

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           Go back to the See the World page.