Video: Huge Alligator Eats Another, Revealing Cannibalism is Common

One alligator eating another—alligator cannibalism, it turns out, is not uncommon. YouTube

Florida resident Alex Figuero was taking a morning stroll at the Circle B Bar Reserve, an area of protected land in central Florida, when he spotted something that you don't see everyday: a huge alligator, estimated to be about 11 feet long, chowing down on another (not unsubstantial) gator. As seen in a video that Figuero took, the apparently hungry beast chews on the other gator as it shakes it, a strategy used to break the bones of the prey. The larger alligator then carries the smaller animal off the trail to swallow it in a less visible spot.

This is a particularly striking example of a relatively common behavior: alligator cannibalism. Of course, it's not usually caught on camera.

In a 2011 study on the subject, researchers found that between 6 and 7 percent of young alligators are cannibalized by their elders every year at Orange Lake, a shallow, marsh body of water in northern Florida. In the paper, the scientists looked at how many tags that they placed previously placed on gators—to keep records of their whereabouts and study them—had ended up in the stomachs of other gators.

They found that, in all, 33 of the alligators that they autopsied (after dying naturally) had eaten other gators. The stomach of one particularly fearsome alligator contained 14 tags, suggesting it ate that many of its fellow gators. One individual was found with six tags in its stomach, and the vast majority of the rest had only eaten one other alligator.

The records linked to those tags show that 91 percent of the cannibalism victims were under 3 years old, the age at which gators become "adults."

The researchers note that cannibalism rates may greatly increase at times when food becomes less abundant, and though grisly, the practice is actually a very effective way of preventive gator overpopulation.

Alligators are, of course, not the only animals that occasionally eat their young. This behavior has also been observed in lions, chimpanzees, pigs, dogs, cats, spiders, many types of frogs and salamanders, bears, fish and some types of birds, just to name a few.