Amazingly, a recent study has shown that alligators eat sharks and stingrays. We all know that alligators will gobble up just about anything that their jaws can reach. The man who led the study, James Nifong, who is an ecologist from at Kansas State University, said this is very surprising as alligators have long been considered to be freshwater predators.
The thing is that when Nifong began asking alligator gurus as to whether they had ever heard of these reptiles eating elasmobranchs—the official name of the group which includes sharks, and stingrays—many of them assumed that this was a joke he was playing on them.
After some persistence Nifong confirmed four instances where an alligator consumed a nurse shark, a lemon shark, a bonnethead shark, as well as a stingray.
He also managed to uncover a few historical accounts showing where sharks had preyed on American alligators, which suggests that these two carnivores go at each other much more often than previously thought.
As Nifong stated in his findings that were published in the Southeastern Naturalist:
“Both are known for their extreme eating habits, and both are highly opportunistic predators. So, when presented with a potential opportunity to feed, they are not likely to pass it up.”
Characterizing the Battles between Sharks and Alligators
The observation of shark and gator confrontations is actually pretty rare for a few reasons. To begin with, both animals can be quite difficult to observe and follow in their natural coastal habitats. Additionally, alligators usually consume sharks that are considerably smaller than the shark on Jaws. Thus, these sharks would probably look like just another fish to a typically onlooker.
These days, alligator researchers use a technique of evaluating stomach contents from live alligators. The method is described as a cross between the Heimlich maneuver and a standard stomach pump. The question is should there not be more evidence shark matters in alligator guts?
Those who pick through gator vomit say probably not. They claim that anything the alligators eat is transformed to mush very quickly in their tummies. So the contents are pretty much indistinguishable.
Are Alligators and Sharks Ancient Enemies?
When we look across the planet that have been many occasions where crocodilians— a group comprised of crocodiles, alligators, and caimans— fight against the elasmobranchs.
In Australia, it has been observed where saltwater crocodiles enter the surf to hunt and attack bull sharks. In fact, there was a study which was published previously this year that discovered crocodile scars on over 50% of the freshwater sawfish that were sampled in the region of Western Australia.
Also reported in South Africa, there was a Nile crocodile found with the remains of a few shark species in its belly. There have even been a few crocodilian fossils which had bite marks that came from ancient sharks, a sure sign that these two were enemies in ancient times.
Among the most intriguing discoveries from Nifong’s study was that where sharks attacked large alligator groups. The most amazing instance was in 1877, where literally hundreds of American alligators gathered within an inlet close to Jupiter, Florida that had been attracted to the fish that were trapped by high tides. Sharks by the hundreds arrived as they sensed potential prey. After this mammoth battle, carcasses of both species were found on beaches that were 80 miles away.
So when we discovered the fact that alligators eat sharks and stingrays, we learned that was the tip of the iceberg.