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What Do Alligators Eat {Explained!}

You’re probably familiar with alligators and their rows of sharp teeth. With such large mouths, you figure they can probably eat a lot of different types of food. But just what do alligators eat, exactly? What are their favorite foods, and how often do they typically eat? Do they ever attack and eat humans? Keep reading! In this article, we’ll answer all of these questions and more.

What Do Alligators Eat in Swamps?

what do alligators eat in swamps

Alligators are generally carnivorous creatures, but they may also eat some types of plant matter to support their diet. What they eat depends on their age and size, as well as where they live and what’s available to them.

Some of the foods they eat include:

  • Insects, snails, worms, spiders: Baby alligators eat these smaller animal foods, which are easier for them to catch, chew, and swallow.
  • Birds: Young alligators will eat the fledglings of many types of birds, while adult alligators will frequently eat the adult birds as well.
  • Fish: Alligators tend to live near bodies of water, so fish make up a large part of their diet. Alligators will eat all types and sizes of fish, whatever they can find in their particular region.
  • Mammals: Alligators eat a wide variety of mammals, from small creatures such as raccoons and muskrats to large creatures like bears and panthers. They will occasionally eat pets such as cats and dogs if they have the opportunity, so if you live in an area with alligators, you won’t want to leave your pets unattended outdoors.
  • Reptiles and amphibians: Like fish, reptiles and amphibians are also plentiful in the areas where alligators live. Alligators will eat frogs, snakes, salamanders, turtles, and any other reptiles and amphibians they can find.
  • Each other: Though cannibalism among alligators is rare, adult alligators may eat the young of other alligators during times of extreme food shortage.
  • Fruit: Alligators will sometimes eat fruit that they find growing in their environment, such as oranges and wild grapes.

Most alligators live in swampy areas, where the animal populations are diverse and abundant. Crocodiles living in swamps will eat any and all of the animals outlined above if they can find and catch them.

What is an Alligator’s Favorite Food?

It’s hard to say exactly what an alligator’s favorite food might be, as alligators eat many different kinds of food depending on what’s available. They are opportunistic feeders and, as such, are not picky at all. 

Generally, they seem to prefer prey that is smaller than themselves, but they will also hunt much larger prey. Alligators are at the top of the food chain, considered apex predators because they don’t have any natural predators themselves–as noted above, they have even been known to hunt bears and panthers. 

In short, alligators enjoy a wide variety of foods and don’t necessarily pick favorites. Check out this video of an alligator attacking a wild hog (warning: graphic):

How Often Do Alligators Eat?

Alligators have slow metabolisms, which means that they don’t have to eat every day. They conserve energy by spending a lot of leisure time relaxing in or near the water. 

Alligators can easily go for a week without food after eating an animal as small as a raccoon. They may eat much less than this during the winter, when they enter a hibernation-like state known as brumation.

That said, alligators rarely refuse the opportunity to eat, so they often eat more frequently than they need to. 

Young alligators especially may eat small meals every day or every few days. Older ones will eat when they get the chance, sometimes small meals every day or sometimes much less if they have recently consumed a large kill.  

How Long Can an Alligator Go Without Eating?

Alligators have an impressive ability to fast. They can go as long as a few years without food during extreme food shortages. 

Brumation allows them to shut down all but the most vital body systems, giving them the ability to survive without food for long periods of time. They do this yearly during the cold winter months, much like hibernation; but they will also do it during periods of food shortage as necessary. 

Because of brumation, alligators can tolerate long periods of starvation, freezing temperatures, and darkness. This may be largely responsible for keeping them alive during the mass extinctions of the Cretaceous Period, which was when dinosaurs and many other prehistoric animals died off. 

Alligators remain awake during these times of brumation, but their heart rate becomes so low it reduces their oxygen intake, which almost entirely eliminates energy waste and allows these animals to become dormant.

Do Alligators Eat Humans?

do alligators eat humans

Alligator attacks on humans are rare, but not completely unheard of. There may be times when an alligator is near starving or can’t find its normal food sources when it may kill and eat a human. 

Humans are not natural prey of alligators, but as noted, alligators will eat nearly anything if they have the opportunity and are desperate enough.

That said, alligators have a natural fear of humans, and they become tired quickly, so they may give up the hunt if the human fights back. They can attack quickly and without warning though, so even if you manage to avoid being killed, you will probably sustain serious injuries in the event of an alligator attack.

Again, though, alligators prefer not to attack humans most of the time, so you should be safe as long as you keep your distance and don’t make any sudden movements.

Conclusion

Alligators are apex predators who will eat just about anything they can sink their teeth into. They are opportunistic carnivores, but they will also eat some plant foods like oranges and wild grapes to supplement their meat-heavy diet.

Alligators tend to eat a lot, but they don’t have to eat everyday. In fact, they can go for as long as two to three years without food, and they regularly enter a hibernation-like state known as brumation each winter.

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