Food is one of the essential requirements for any living thing. It is one of the things which characterizes an animal. What food it eats, the spectrum of variety of the food it eats, and how the eating habits differ across the seasons define the animal’s diet and its nature. In this article, “What do alligators eat in different seasons?“, we will be discussing the eating habits of one of the fascinating reptiles- Alligators.
Surprisingly enough, there are only two species of alligators known to exist in the current age. There were many other species of alligators, which are now extinct and are known to humankind only through their fossils.
These two species of alligators are
- American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis)
- Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis)
Alligators come under the family Alligatoridae and the order Crocodilia. So one must keep in mind that alligators and crocodiles are two different species and families. Even though both these animals have strikingly similar appearances, there are a few key differences to be noted. These differences are:
- Crocodiles generally have a broad, U-shaped snout, while alligators have a narrow, V-shaped snout
- Crocodiles are usually black or grey in color, while alligators are olive green in color.
Now that we have established the difference between crocodiles and alligators let us speak about the diet of alligators.
We have often heard about how dangerous it is to go near an alligator lest it may recognize us for its prey. It piques our curiosity as to what the alligators’ feeding habits are throughout the year. Therefore we bring today’s article, “what do alligators eat in different seasons?”
During the warm climates in summer and Spring, we can see the alligators come out and bask in the sun with their mouth open. This is the time they are the most active. The most important prey groups are the fish. Other prey groups include reptiles, birds, mammals, amphibians, and invertebrates. During the winter, the alligators stop feeding.
We will discuss in depth the feeding habits of alligators in different seasons later in this article, “what do alligators eat in different seasons?”. So without any further ado, let’s leap into this topic.
Alligator’s Feeding Habits
Alligators are opportunistic predators. They are primarily carnivorous, and they prey upon anything which can potentially be their food. The habitat and prey availability also play a major role in an alligator’s diet. Sometimes they also end up eating plants and berries to balance their diet.
They are apex predators, and they eat animals ranging from small fish and turtles to wild boars and deer. Alligators are most active for feeding during dusk or night. They lurk around the waters looking for suitable prey.
They usually want smaller prey, such as fish, frogs, and smaller mammals, which can be devoured with a single bite to save energy. Sometimes, when the alligator catches a larger prey, it will drag the prey underwater to kill it. It also has extremely powerful jaws, which can easily penetrate through the turtle shells and crush bones.
The Chinese alligators are comparatively smaller and have blunter teeth, which makes their food habits slightly different from their American cousins. They mostly eat smaller animals such as snails, crustaceans, clams, and fish.
Alligators being cold-blooded animals, can last more than two years without feeding. Once a week is the usual feeding schedule of an alligator. The excess food and calories are stored in the tail of the alligator as fat reserves. This fat can be utilized to derive nourishment during the winter.
What do Alligators Eat in Winter?
Winter is the season with the coldest temperatures and shortest days. The winter season begins in December and extends up to march, leading on to the Spring season. During the winter months, most mammals undergo hibernation. Alligators undergo Brumation.
Brumation is the reptilian equivalent of hibernation. It is a period of pseudo dormancy, wherein the alligators do not fall into a deep sleep like mammals during hibernation. These reptiles become sluggish and slow. When the temperature drops down to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, the body metabolism slows down. They completely stop feeding.
Alligators are ectothermic species, which means their body temperatures depend on the temperatures of their surroundings. Even though the alligators stop feeding, they continue to drink water to avoid dehydration.
Alligators create mud holes, in which they hide and submerge themselves to keep themselves warm. During warmer winter days, the alligators come out of their den and bask in the sun. Unlike other animals, food isn’t the main concern for the alligators. They can go up to 5 to 6 months without eating. Their primary concern is regulating their body temperature.
During their period of Brumation, the alligators derive their nutrition from their tails. Alligators store fat reserves in their tails, which allows them to survive for a long time without eating food.
What do Alligators Eat During Spring?
After being inactive for the entire winter, the alligators finally come out of their mud dens during Spring for the mating season!!
The spring mating season begins in late march and extends up to May. The temperature comes back to the ideal temperature of 70 degrees Fahrenheit, driving them out of their mud holes. We can see these alligators basking in the warm sun after a harsh 4 months of winter. The alligators are most active during this period.
Even though they don’t have to eat as much as warm-blooded animals, they pose a great threat to all the wildlife around them. They do not hunt their prey; they just lurk around the waters and lash at any animal or wildlife coming close to them.
Spring being the season when food becomes most abundant and the climate becomes warm, all the animals come out of their dens to enjoy mother nature’s bounty. This means that there is abundant food for the alligators to devour. Let us now see what alligators love eating,
- Fish is the most important prey group for alligators. It is easier to catch them, and lesser energy is expended on it. The most common species of fish eaten by them are the spotted gars, freshwater drum, and large-mouth bass.
- Mammals are another prey group consumed by alligators. The most common ones consumed are muskrats and nutria. Sometimes, these reptiles ambush larger mammals such as deer, wild boars, black bears, and panthers. They are also known to attack humans too, making them an apex predator.
- Reptiles are one of the alligators’ favorites. They are the most commonly consumed non-fish vertebrates. They eat different species of turtles, such as red-belly turtles, stink-pot turtles, and yellow mud turtles. Gators also eat a few snakes and even smaller alligators sometimes!
- Amphibians consumed by the alligators include aquatic salamanders and frogs (green tree frog).
- Alligators consume birds, too, if it doesn’t require the gators to use a lot of their energy.
- Invertebrates are not a significant part of alligator diets. The invertebrates consumed by the gators include insects, crustaceans (blue crabs, crayfish), and gastropods.
- In some cases, alligators consume carrion (decaying flesh of animals) if they are extremely hungry.
What do Alligators Eat During Summer?
Summer is the season of long days and hot temperatures. We can generally see the gators basking in the sun during this time of the year.
The gators have similar feeding habits as in Spring. Their primary diet includes freshwater fish, turtles, insects, snakes, frogs, and small mammals. If an opportunity presents itself, they sometimes devour larger mammals and birds. They can kill large animals like wild boar.
Recent studies have shown that alligators like to eat sharks and stingrays. Sharks dwell in saltwater, while alligators prefer freshwater. In the few instances when the shark or stingray swims into the freshwater, the alligator doesn’t hesitate to make a kill.
Baby alligators hatch out from the eggs during mid-summer. Alligators take care of their hatch-lings for almost a year. Therefore, in summer, we can see the hatch-lings with their mothers lurking around the waters, searching for opportunities to prey.
These hatch-lings feed on smaller prey, like small fish, insects, snails, crustaceans, mollusks, and amphibians. As they grow older, they start catching larger prey.
Here we conclude our article, “What do alligators eat in different seasons?”. You can check out many more such articles on our website. Stay tuned for more such interesting and knowledgeable articles.
Monty is a founder of How It See. Being a life science student in a reputed university, he always wonders about an eclectic correlation between science and nature. After engaging in various college projects, Monty determined to share all his knowledge with you as a writer. In the meantime, he loves to research and study about the various types of colorful animals.