Battle of the Jaws: Study Finds Alligators Eat Sharks

Alligator experts thought James Nifong was kidding when he asked if it was possible
By Kate Seamons,  Newser Staff
Posted Oct 17, 2017 12:25 PM CDT
Battle of the Jaws: Study Finds Alligators Eat Sharks
An alligator moves through floodwaters from the Guadalupe River on Sept. 1, 2017, near Tivoli, Texas.   (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

As far as research goes, it sounds pretty intense: pumping the stomachs of 500-plus alligators—"live and alert" ones at that. It was part of James Nifong's study on whether American alligators on the Atlantic and Gulf coasts eat sharks, and the answer might surprise you: yes. The small variety, that is, but a press release calls it the "first scientific documentation of a widespread interaction between the two predators." In fact, the Kansas State University researcher tells National Geographic that when he first broached with alligator experts the question of whether alligators eat sharks, some of them thought he was kidding.

Nifong wasn't, and he found that in addition to the expected prey—crustaceans, fish, and wading birds, per his study in Southeastern Naturalist—he documented alligators eating a lemon shark, a nurse shark, and a bonnethead shark, along with an Atlantic stingray. This though they're freshwater creatures; Nifong explains it's not uncommon for sharks to enter freshwater, where "opportunistic alligators" then pounce. GPS trackers also found the gators wade into estuaries where the two types of water mix, and where shark nurseries can be found. But it may be a two-way street. Says Nifong, it's "really about size dynamic. If a small shark swims by an alligator and the alligator feels like it can take the shark down, it will, but we also reviewed some old stories about larger sharks eating smaller alligators." (An alligator was involved in this strange animal skirmish.)

Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.