What Do Alligators Eat?

Alligator eating catfish.
Alligator eating catfish.

Alligators are reptiles that resemble crocodiles except for a few distinct features that set them apart. There are two species of alligators; the Chinese alligator (A. sinensis) and the American alligator (A. mississippiensis).

The Diet Of The Alligator

Alligators are generally carnivorous, but autopsies of dead animals show that they also eat fruits such as wild grapes, citrus fruits, and elderberries growing in their habitat. Their primary diet largely depends on their age and size, availability of prey species, and type of habitat. Alligator offsprings feed on insects, worms, spiders, and snails. As the animals reach adolescence, they consume larger prey, including turtles, raccoons, larger fish, muskrats, and fledgling birds. Adults prey on large aquatic or terrestrial animals that venture close to the water's edge or enter the water. Alligators prefer prey smaller than they are but will occasionally hunt larger ones if there an opportunity to do so. Raccoons, muskrats, and nutrias are typical alligator diets since they are found in aquatic environments and are easy to ambush.

Chinese alligators are much smaller than their counterparts. They mostly feed on fish, small mammals, and birds. Their preference for domesticated ducks nearly led them to extinction after people in rural Asia began classifying them as pests. These alligators attack domesticated animals like goats, calves, and dogs whenever there is an opportunity. Although they shy away from humans, there are cases where they attack and kill people. Such attacks occur when humans venture too close to the water's edge and are mistaken for small animals. Although they are active during the day and at night, they prefer hunting during darkness when prey is dormant. They venture to within 200 feet of the shoreline to hunt for birds in their nests. They are also known to cannibalize young ones of their own species.

Powerful Jaws Aid In Feeding

Alligators have powerful jaws and bites that can break animal bones and turtle shells. They have 74 to 80 teeth that are continuously replaced as they wear and break off. Their teeth are designed for grabbing and not chewing. During the nesting season, alligators balance twigs and branches on their heads to lure birds seeking to build nests.

Alligators Are Apex Predators In Their Ecosystem

Large animals are not often on alligator menu, but they are likely to ambush a large deer or feral wild boar that venture too close. They launch a surprise attack and kill prey by holding them down in the water and drowning them. When the supply of small animals and fish dwindles, the alligators aggressively seek larger prey. Some alligators are known to devour even black bears, Florida panthers, and bobcats, a characteristic that elevates them to the top of the food chain.

Learn about the differences between alligators, crocodiles, and gharials here.


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