Granted it isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when we think about alligators, but it seems that these massive reptiles do have an appetite for small sharks and stingrays if the opportunity presents itself.
Although alligators typically feast on fish, crustaceans and birds (as well as any animal unfortunate enough to linger too long at the water’s edge), a new study by Kansas State University is adding some new ‘dishes’ to the gator’s menu.
The findings of the study was published in a recent issue of Southeastern Naturalist.
In the study, the research team documented alligators consuming three species of sharks and one species of stingray.
“Before this, there have only been a few observations from an island off the Georgia coast, but the new findings document the occurrence of these interactions from the Atlantic coast of Georgia around the Florida peninsula to the Gulf Coast and Florida panhandle,” said James Nifong, a postdoctoral researcher with the Kansas Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit at the university.
There had also been historical reports about fights taking place between alligators and sharks after incidents of flooding and high tide brought the two together.
To find out more about the alligators’ diet, Nifong, together with wildlife biologist Russell Lowers with Integrated Mission Support Services at Kennedy Space Center, pumped the stomachs of more than 500 live alligators. Remnants of four different shark species and stingrays comprised part of the stomach contents.
Although alligators are a freshwater species and sharks a saltwater species, it is not unknown for the two species to meet. Sharks have been known to venture into freshwater areas. And alligators can sometimes be found in saltwater areas.
“When it rains really hard, they [alligators] can actually sip fresh water off the surface of the salt water. That can prolong the time they can stay in a saltwater environment,” said Nifong.
"The findings bring into question how important sharks and rays are to the alligator diet as well as the fatality of some the juvenile sharks when we think about population management of endangered species," he added.