American alligators are eating small sharks and stingrays, according to a new study published in Southeastern Naturalist. This is the first ever scientific documentation regarding the interaction of predators.
Interaction Of Predators
The documentation found that the interaction occurs from the Atlantic coast of Georgia around the Florida peninsula to the Gulf Coast and Florida panhandle. Sharks and stingrays can share water with alligators even though there is a difference between saltwater and freshwater, James Nifong explained, the research leader and a postdoctoral researcher at Kansas State University.
Sharks and stingrays have the ability to swim toward freshwater, giving alligators the opportunity to hunt them for a meal. Alligators have no salt glands but are still capable of traveling to marine habitat and freshwater.
"Alligators seek out fresh water in high-salinity environment," Nifong said. They can drink freshwater from saltwater when it's raining hard, allowing them to extend their time in the saltwater environment.
The Diet Of Alligators
The typical diet of alligators is made up of crustaceans, snails, and fish, but sharks and stingrays are also included on the list since alligators are considered as opportunistic predators. In the study, alligators were found to consume four shark species and a specific type of stingray. Alligators eating sharks and stingrays are believed to be widespread.
Apart from the diet, the documentation also raised questions to the importance of sharks and stingrays in the diet of alligators and the harm it may cause to small sharks especially in considering the population of endangered species. The stomachs of 500 live and alert alligators were pumped to have a deeper understanding of their diet, and GPS transmitters were equipped to monitor their actions.
"If a small shark swims by an alligator and the alligator feels like it can take the shark down, it will, but we also reviewed some old stories about larger sharks eating smaller alligators," Nifong said. This diet research is part of the larger study of freshwater river systems and food web dynamics.
Battle Of Sharks And Alligators
Reports in the late 1800s indicated the battle between alligators and sharks after high tides and floodings washed out both predators. A particular entry in a journal described the attraction of sharks to blood from alligators after eating fish. Sharks would attack their prey as soon as alligators were out of the sea.
People in Australia have also witnessed saltwater crocodile hunting for sharks. Similarly, a study earlier this year discovered that half of the freshwater sawfish sampled in Western Australia have scars caused by freshwater crocodiles, while a Nile crocodile in South Africa had an unidentified shark species in its stomach.
Crocodilian fossils from the Late Cretaceous period were discovered showing bite marks from ancient sharks, hinting that these predators might have been enemies since then.