Alligators use cannibalism as the ultimate population control

Illustration for article titled Alligators use cannibalism as the ultimate population control

If you're a baby alligator, there's about a 1 in 16 chance that your elders will eat you. It's nothing's just the simplest way for these gators to deal with a temporary food shortage and keep their population stable.

Florida researchers examined the stomachs of 267 adult alligators between 1981 and 1987. Since some of the baby alligators had been tagged, the researchers were looking to find out how many of these baby gator tags had ended up inside an adult's stomach. The researchers discovered fifty-six tags inside 33 different stomachs, with one particularly greedy gator having consumed 14 tags. 91% of the cannibalized alligators were three years old or younger.

After some experiments to figure out how many tags would be expected to remain in an alligator's stomach after cannibalization, the researchers determined that about 6 to 7 percent of all juvenile alligators became food for their elders. This behavior, though it's not exactly going to help alligators' warm and cuddly reputation, has a certain grim logic to it. By eating a small percentage of their young, gators are able to conserve food resources and ensure that their habitat has enough food to support the survivors.


Knowing exactly how alligators approach cannibalization is important for conservationists, because any human efforts to control the gator population needs to keep in mind that the animals themselves have their own ideas on their score. And gators are far from alone - similar cannibalism has been observed in chimpanzees, cats, elephants, bears, dogs, pigs, and lions. So here's the real question: who's been reading "A Modest Proposal" to all these animals?

Via LiveScience.

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I buy all of the examples except elephants. While I might believe infanticide among elephants, cannibalism would involve a complete change in diet, unless you are finally revealing in an offhand way the existence of carnivorous elephants!