Science!: Alligator Feeding Frenzy and More Squid Stuff

Lauren Admire | 2 Aug 2010 17:00

Imagine you're motor-boating down the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia. As you idle across the water, you notice a few alligators popping their heads out of the water around you, watching with a sense of indifference. As you approach a particularly narrow stretch, you notice even more alligators surfacing. There must be at least 100, most of them still, all within spitting distance of the boat. What would you do?

If you're a regular Joe, you probably wet yourself, try to remember if the trick from Jurassic Park (stand very still) works on alligators, and then turn that boat straight around. I know I would. If you're Ray Cason, you get out your video camera, start rolling and "ease" your way through the reptilian gauntlet.

Though it was hailed as a "feeding frenzy," with every social media and news site from YouTube to CNN providing some form of coverage of the video. In reality, Cason stumbled upon a rare "cooperative feeding" event. A feeding frenzy occurs when the reptiles are feeding in close quarters and engage in a free-for-all, fighting each other for access to food and blocking the smaller gators from eating. A cooperative feed, however, occurs when alligators, according to a University of Florida website, "face into the current and arrange themselves side-by-side in a row across the flow of water"-the better to catch a flood of fish squeezed into a bottleneck in a free-flowing channel."

Despite the fact that there was some wrestling and splashing among the alligators, Cason decided to maneuver his boat through the group in order to go fishing, and he's received some flak for it. American alligators are a protected species and there's some concern that the boat could have harmed some of them. Herpetologist Kenneth Krysko put it this way: "No one would be allowed to do that if they were manatees, and manatees are protected as well." Blair Hayman, a biologist at Florida's Alligator Management Program, disagrees. "It doesn't appear that he is doing anything," she said. "He's just boating at normal speed. Typically [alligator] harassment would be if he were poking [an alligator] with a stick or intentionally touching or otherwise disturbing him."

Source: National Geographic

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