ALLIGATOR BEHAVIOR page 4d:  FEEDING 4
This page was born 07/05/2008.  Rickubis designed it.  (such as it is.) Last update: 12/11/2016
Images and contents on this page copyright 2001-2016  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). 

6/24/2007--(added 12/11/2016) I was walking along the Spillway Trail when I noticed an alligator chewing on something. Since I couldn't see any fur, and the carcass had legs, I assumed that the alligator was eating the carcass of a smaller alligator.
On further examination through binoculars, I discovered that the carcass was actually that of a very large softshell turtle.  The alligator had somehow eaten out the center of the turtle's caracass. This left a "ring" of shell
and flesh, and this ring was wrapped around the alligator's lower jaw. When the alligator tried to swallow the carcass, only part of it could go in. I watched the alligator struggle with the carcass until I had to leave to 
work elsewhere in the park.

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5/28/2006--The water level in the park is far below normal. I was near the Observation Tower at 40-Acre lake, watching the large group of alligators there. The receding water level had driven most of the prey to the remaining deeper water, and the corner near the tower was one of these areas. One park visitor counted 50 alligators, which were cruising about and occasionally pouncing on prey (which I could almost never identify). Suddenly, I heard a loud crunching sound, and I hurried over to the alligator making the noise. The images below shows what I found. The alligator was chewing on a soda bottle. Not only did it continue chewing on the bottle, but another alligator made a brief attempt to steal it! The owner of the bottle left the water completely and--to my surprise--SWALLOWED the bottle! The following pictures show this activity. Here is also a short movie clip 2.9MB showing the alligator chewing on the bottle.

I was horrified to see this. After 5 years at the park, I still can't believe the laziness and stupidity of some of the park visitors. WHY don't they throw their garbage in its proper place...the garbage cans?
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                 WELL, IT SOUNDED TASTY                                              A LITTLE CLOSER                                                          EVEN CLOSER                                          I'M TIRED OF CHEWING THIS     

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                                 FIRST TRY                                                        DIDN'T GO DOWN                                                  THIS TIME IT WILL GO                                               A TOSS BACK 

The series starting with the 4th picture from the left above (TIRED OF CHEWING) shows the final disposition of this non-food item. This was a small alligator, about 4 feet long. I wonder if this plastic bottle will have an adverse affect on the alligator's alimentary canal. I also wonder if something like this has been the cause of death for the dead alligators what turn up occasionally.
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                                      GULP!                                                           AND NOW IT GOES.....                                                            ...DOWN...                                                         ...THE HATCH.
The image below is an animated gif of the final image sequence I show above. I built it to repeat only 5 times, so if you don't see movement, refresh the page.
 
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I really didn't expect the alligator to continue chewing on this inert object, and I was totally surprised that the alligator ate it. Last April (4/09/06), I heard a loud crunching sound near one of the fishing piers on Elm Lake. When I investigated, I found an alligator with a plastic bottle, as shown below (see DO GATORS DRINK). As shown in this movie clip 1.9MB , that alligator let go of the bottle after just a few chews. I expected this one to do the same.

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            DO GATORS DRINK BOTTLED?                                                 LOTS OF ALLIGATORS                                        TOO MUCH NOISE, I'M LEAVING          

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                          USUAL WATER LEVEL                                           HE CONTINUES ACROSS

Returning to the morning I originally was talking about, the next image above (LOTS OF ALLIGATORS) shows just some of the clustered alligators. This  short clip 3.3MB is a slow pan across the alligators that were nearest to me. There were many more. While the bottle was being chewed up, the one large alligator that was in the vicinity left the lake. The 3rd image above (TOO MUCH NOISE) is a frame from this movie clip 5.0MB  showing the alligator walking up to the edge of the trail, where it stopped to rest. The next image (USUAL WATER LEVEL) is another frame from the clip which I've marked to show where the edge of the lake normally lies. This will give some idea of how low the water level is.  Finally, the image above (HE CONTINUES ACROSS) shows the alligator crossing the trail and entering Pilant Slough. That image is from this movie clip 5.2MB which shows the uncommon view of an alligator walking directly away from me. In the 5 years (or almost 5) that I've been at the park, I have been lucky enough to see many alligators high-walking across trails and fields. The sight ALWAYS brings me enjoyment, and sometimes awe. I love seeing the alligators!
Watching these large reptiles lumbering over land sometimes reminds us of what the Age of Reptiles might have been like. But it's interesting to note that-- according to new discoveries--we *do* have actual dinosaurs in the park. However, they have feathers, wings, talons, bills and beaks. Yes, they are the "avian dinosaurs"--birds.

January 01 and 08, 2006--  The winter has been quite mild here. At Brazos Bend State Park (BBSP), we still haven't gotten enough rain to bring up the water levels in the lakes to their usual height. The mild weather has favored the alligators. Not only that, but the alligators have been fairly active! The alligator feeding on the nutria (described a few weeks ago) is just one example of various feeding events that have been witnessed throughout the park this winter. On two Sundays in a row, I was able to see alligators eating turtles. First, on January 1, I saw an alligator in 40-Acre lake eating a small red-eared slider. The first picture below (SMALL TURTLE CHOMP) shows one of the alligator's early attempts to crush the turtle. The alligator is about 8 feet long, and the turtle is about 4 inches long. The video clip is linked below the picture.

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                    RICKUBISCAM SHOT                                                 SMALL TURTLE CHOMP ----                                          REALLY BAD DAY                                                   THE TURTLE, CIRCLED
                                      FULL CHEWING CLIP( WMV) 1371kb  GULPING DOWN THE TURTLE  WMV 4902kb - GULPING SLOW MOTION  WMV 2527kb

As I was watching, the alligator tossed the turtle a bit to reposition it. The turtle was then held at the end of the alligator's jaws. As I prepared to film the next movement, the alligator tossed the turtle into the back of its throat, and swallowed it. Today's RICKUBISCAM shot (above left) is a frame from a video clip showing the small red-eared slider's last view of the world. The image shows the slider peering out as the alligator is swallowing it. This happens happens very quickly in the clip and was only visible to me when I was reviewing the film frame-by-frame. Two more view can be seen above (GOODBYE EVERYONE and CIRCLED), and there are links to two video clips. The clips are interesting because there is apparent movement in the bottom jaw--like manipulation of a tongue--visible. It's also apparent how the alligator uses gravity to help force food down its throat. The slow motion clip also, of course, allows a glimpse of the turtle as it is swallowed.

On January 8, I was watching some alligators near piers 4 and 5 on Elm Lake. While I was watching and filming two alligators, another one off to my left suddenly burst into motion. Of course, I was filming the wrong alligators. I moved a few steps closer, and set up the camera. I knew that if the alligator had seized something that it would move to the nearest bank to eat it. I was correct, and the alligator went to the island and started tossing something. Through binoculars I could see that it was a large turtle (this was a large alligator...at least 10 feet long).  The island is a bit far for my still camera to capture effectively, but I got a chance to try the zoom on my video camera. The images below are frames from the video. The video works better than the stills, unfortunately, but the images give an idea of what the clips show. This alligator took about 15 minutes to catch and swallow the turtle. Alligators, although powerful, seem to tire quickly, and will often rest for 5 to 30 minutes between short bouts (about 1-2 minutes each) of prey squeezing or shaking.

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                   POSITIONED CORRECTLY                                                    CRUNCH!                                               FURTHER REDUCING                                                     IT'S GONE
         TOSS AND CRUNCH WMV 6332kb                         CRUNCH-SLOW MO WMV 4066kb                                REDUCING WMV 2722kb                                         SWALLOW WMV 2215kb

The first two images (POSITIONED CORRECTLY and CRUNCH!) are from the first video clip (links are under the pictures). There are a few interesting points about the clip (as well as the slow-motion version). First, is the volume of the sound of the turtle shell. As I stated before, I was on the Elm Lake trail, and the alligator was on the bank of one of the islands. I was not straight across from the alligator, so I could film from the side. I was, I estimate, about 50 yards away. The day was windy. Yet, the video camera still picked up the sound of the shell crunching.
Second is the power shown as the alligator bit cleanly though, breaking the turtle in half. It's possible to see the bunching of the huge jaw muscles as the alligator bites down.
The third image (FURTHER REDUCING), is from the next clip, which shows the alligator further preparing to finish its meal. Note the arched tail. I find this interesting because it is probably just a side effect of the effort of raising the head so far. I know that the tail arch is a social signal, and I wonder if this position says anything to other alligators. Would the tail arch alone convey any kind of message ("keep back", for instance), or does the entire body position lend context to this? ("keep back", but maybe "this alligator is feeding"--which is unintentional because the tail arch isn't done "on purpose"?) Also, he takes a slight rest after manipulating his prey with the head raised out of the water; even though it seems that the prey is positioned for swallowing.
The fourth image (DOWN IT GOES) is from the last clip. This shows the prey being swallowed and the high head lift necessary. The gravity feed is evident again. Once the prey gets to a certain point, the alligator seems to have to work it down by tilting its head.  When I give an alligator program, sometimes I like to let the participants lift a part of large alligator skull.  A large alligator skull is solid--for crushing strength--and pretty heavy. It takes an effort to lift a 15-inch long skull and swing it quickly from side to side. It isn't easy to hold it tilted with the snout up, or work the jaws, either. While I am not built to manipulate an alligator skull, that doesn't lessen the fact that this is a massive object that the alligator is moving around--sometimes with amazing speed. This is NOT counting the additional load caused by prey held in the jaws. Bearing that in mind, it isn't surprising the the alligator requires many rest periods while manipulating or swallowing prey. The respiratory/circulatory system that the alligator is also not conducive to long periods of sustained activity.
I'm so pleased to be able to observe these magnificent animals!

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.