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More than he can chew?

American alligator wrestling with fish

July's Pic of the Month was taken by Sal Scibetta. We know that alligators are opportunistic eaters, but perhaps this one is being a little too optimistic! While this might appear to be a mouthful, this alligator should be able to deal with this large meal with a few, deft flicks of its head. Sal explains the circumstances:

"The picture was taken at Eufaula National Wildlife Refuge in Alabama, US. The alligator was about 4 feet long. I heard a large splash and saw this alligator had caught a large carp. He walked around with it for around an hour. It was funny, because there were all these smaller alligators that were following him around. Two of the larger ones of the group even tried to approach this big gator a few times only to be chased off. The alligator eventually settled on a island bank about 50 meters from me and began to eat just the head of the fish. I was fortunate to be able to take many pictures of this. This picture was taken right before he ripped the fish's head off. I have my own ideas, but do you know why this alligator would just eat the head of the fish? There were other parts of the refugee where many decapitated fish were seen lying around."

Sal asks a good question: why was the alligator just eating the head of the fish? I suspect it is simply a case of how much fits into an alligator's stomach. For the size of alligator, that whole carp is considerably larger than the alligator's relatively small stomach, and hence the head (which separates most easily from the body) would be the best part to ingest. By the time the alligator's stomach was empty again, the rest of the fish would have become quite rotten and hence wouldn't be touched. Hence, lots of decapitated fish! However, this doesn't explain why the other alligators did not scavenge said fish. Sal says these were smaller alligators, so perhaps they simply weren't able to break the fish up further themselves, perhaps there was a dominance issue preventing them from reaching the fish, or perhaps they simply weren't interested. Juvenile crocodilians avoid smelly and rotting prey that would attract adults, and decapitated fish wouldn't be appealing if other food resources were plentiful. That's one of the aspects of zoology that makes it fascinating - playing detective.



Do you have a photograph which you'd like to become the Pic of the Month? Submit it and I'll select the best. The best photograph I receive each year will receive a prize - an Ilfochrome print - to be awarded in December.


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