It's predator against predator in the game of alligators vs sharks.
According to a new study, one of these predators has fallen prey to the other. As if American alligators weren't terrifying enough, scientists have found that even sharks are sometimes no match for the reptilian apex predator. Then again, alligators have been found to be quite opportunistic. Not only can they eat almost anything that passes in front of them, they also want to. Alligators will eat carrion, small animals, pets, even humans. Thus, is it really surprising that it eats sharks as well?
Apparently, it is. Ecologist James Nifong, lead author of the study, says that alligators take freshwater prey. Most sharks, meanwhile, are saltwater fish. Even alligator experts didn't expect that alligators would be feasting on saltwater critters like sharks and stingrays, which both belong to the elasmobranch group. Still, Nifong kept digging, and finally found four different instances in which an alligator preyed on a shark.
An American alligator attacks and seemingly kills a nurse shark. [Photo by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service]
Nifong found that alligators have feasted upon an Atlantic stingray, a nurse shark, a bonnethead shark, and a lemon shark. There is also evidence that the deadly game of alligators vs sharks may have been going on for quite some time now. There are news articles from as early as the 19th century reporting on sharks attacking alligators. Thus, it's not actually a new development between the two predators. In fact, it's also possible that sharks are in fact a significant part of an alligator's diet.
However, sharks weren't always prey to reptiles. Nifong found several accounts in which the shark was the predator, and a crocodilian was the prey. For example, great white sharks were found to have preyed on alligators in Colombia. In Australia, meanwhile, there were reports of sharks preying on estuarine crocodiles.
There's even evidence that the conflict between alligators and sharks stretch way back to ancient times. Fossil evidence has shown predatory behavior on the part of sharks. Just like alligators, sharks are opportunistic feeders as well. Thus, if a possible food source swims or lingers nearby, it's most likely shark bait. What's strange, however, is that scientists haven't observed much of the predation between alligators and sharks.
If sharks and alligators have been attacking each other for such a long time, why don't we have mounds of evidence? Scientists explain that both species are quite difficult to observe in their natural habitats. Another reason is that the sharks that alligators go after are quite small. Thus, to the untrained eye, it may just seem like the alligator is eating a regular old fish, and not another predator.
Well, you ask, shouldn't there be remnants of a shark in an alligator's stomach? Solid thinking, but the answer is no. Scientists say that the stomachs of alligators turn into a sludge, making them easier to digest.
Still, confrontations between large groups of the two predators are likely to have happened. Both species, after all, tend to feed in groups once in a while. No clear winner may emerge in the game of alligators vs sharks, but at least they're turning all their energy onto each other—and not onto us.
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