Early-rising hunters may find some similarities between themselves and the American alligator, which experts are now saying find the most hunting success from 4 a.m. to 9 a.m. in the morning. According to National Geographic, a study led by University of Florida doctoral candidate James Nifong and his team found that alligators hunt much more extensively than previously thought.
“They’re attacking something once every two hours,” Nifong said.
The study, which was published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, took place near Merritt Island in Florida. The researchers approached National Geographic’s remote imaging expert Kyler Abernathy for his experience with Crittercams. It was Abernathy who designed the flexible camera harness that allowed a first-person view of a hunting gator. The researchers captured 15 of the animals living around Merritt Island and equipped the reptiles with their new cameras—a task that was not easy.
You can watch an interview with Abernathy below:
After viewing the recorded video, Nifong and his team realized alligators hunt and eat large amounts of small animals. Previous studies showed the most common prey of alligators seemed to be small mammals such as muskrats, raccoons, and nutria. As the footage shows, however, gators are not picky and will chow down on a wide assortment of prey.
“No one has ever documented in this level of detail the feeding rates of alligators in their natural environment,” Abernathy said. “There are apparently a lot of small items, whether they’re little fish or frogs or some little items.”
Although the apex predators have also been known to eat large mammals such as deer or wild pig, the team saw little of that in the recordings. Instead of relying on a small amount of large prey, as some snake species do, alligators instead consume small game consistently. Researchers emphasize that understanding the foraging behavior of these large reptiles can be vital for the conservation of their habitat. In the study, Nifong and his co-authors state large-bodied predators have an especially large impact on their environment because of their varied diet.
“Our results are the first available estimates regarding nocturnal and submerged feeding behaviors for any crocodilian species in the wild, as very few studies have quantified crocodilian feeding behaviors through direct observation,” the study stated.