Cannibalism is not uncommon in the animal world, especially among apex predators like alligators. If you’ve ever seen a gator prey on a juvenile, you may be wondering if this is normal. So, do alligators eat their young?
Yes, studies show that about 6 to 7 percent of baby gators are eaten by adults. By this, we mean adult gators preying on other gators’ babies. Mother gators usually don’t eat their young; instead, they try to protect them.
According to experts, this type of cannibalism among alligators has many survival benefits. In this article, we will look at why alligators eat their young, how the babies survive for the first few years and other related questions.
Are alligators protective of their young?
Despite their reputation for being vicious and dangerous, mother alligators are quite protective of their young. They are what you would call “good mothers”.
Right from the time they lay their eggs, female gators protect their young. They cover the eggs with material to keep them warm and protect the nest until the eggs hatch.
Even after hatching, the babies stay close to their mothers until they can survive on their own. This could be several months or a few years. During this time, the mothers are entirely responsible for protecting their babies from predators. The baby gators vocalize or call for their moms when they feel threatened and the moms will come to their aid.
In contrast, adult males are not protective of their young. In fact, they often eat them before they grow to maturity.
Do alligators eat their young?
Yes, adult gators often eat their young to conserve food resources. This behavior is known as cannibalization and is also common among crocodiles. Studies show that 6-7 percent of baby gators die this way.
The need to conserve their food resources stems from the massive size of alligators and their corresponding high demand for food. A single adult has to eat a lot to survive. Cannibalization ensures their population doesn’t blow up; a situation that will cause a severe food shortage.
Besides worrying about getting eaten by their own kind, baby gators also have to worry about predators. Studies show that 80 percent of hatchlings do not make it to adulthood. They either die from cannibalism or fall prey to predators.
It is worth mentioning that mother alligators do not eat their young. On the contrary, they protect them.
Why do alligators eat their babies?
Alligators don’t just eat juveniles for fun According to researchers, there seems to be some logic behind this barbaric act.
Prevent Food Shortage
Alligators eat their young to prevent food shortage and keep their population under control. We see the same event playing out among crocodiles.
Alligators are incredibly large creatures, which means they need a lot of food to survive. Since they are carnivores, this means plenty of meat. As a result, when more gators are added to the group, it impacts the demand for food and other available resources.
Although baby gators don’t each much like adults, as they grow, they begin to eat more. So, even as juveniles, they are seen as competition by the older gators and are often whittled down to maintain balance in the food chain and prevent food shortage in the future. This is important because a severe food problem will deplete the population as many gators will die.
Lack of Emotion
A second reason why alligators eat their young is connected with their nature. By design, alligators lack a high sense of emotion, so they feel little to no compassion for their young. This particularly applies to males. Biologists think this is partly because the males have no way of identifying their babies since the eggs in a female’s nest can be fertilized by different male alligators.
Mother alligators, on the other hand, care for their young but the babies don’t depend on them indefinitely.
Do alligators eat their own eggs?
No, they don’t! Mother alligators typically keep their eggs and hatchlings safe. It is the job of the moms to ensure the eggs are safe and in the best condition so they can hatch without getting eaten by other animals.
In fact, when a gator has a nest filled with eggs or hatchlings, she tends to get extremely aggressive territorially. This means she can go to any length to protect her eggs or babies. It is not uncommon for her to attack when a human or some other animal tries to get close.
In general, only predators eat alligator eggs. These include raccoons, otters, pigs, rats, and even ants. There’s currently no record of gators eating their eggs.
How long do alligators stay with their babies?
Mother gators do not stay with their babies indefinitely. Right from the time they lay the eggs till when they hatch and grow into adolescents, they provide care and support. But as soon as the baby gators are old enough, they have to seek out their own territories.
Some babies can remain with their mothers for a few months or a year while some can stay up to two years. During this time, they feed on insects and small animals around such as frogs, worms, snails, and smaller fishes. They are protected by their mothers from predators such as raccoons, otters, possums, and other alligators (adults). Many times, they still fall prey to these predators; only a few of them survive to adulthood.
Once a baby gator grows to about 4 feet in length, it is no longer vulnerable in the wild and can take care of itself. At this point, the mother starts getting ready to take care of the new babies as they start hatching from her nest.
FAQs: Do alligators eat their young?
Do alligators know their babies?
Yes, they do. Mother alligators know their babies. In fact, after laying their eggs, they protect the best, and then after hatching, they stay close to their babies, providing care and protection until they are old enough to survive on their own.
Do alligators abandon their young?
Mother alligators typically don’t abandon their young. It is the males who simply don’t provide any care. A female alligator will stay with her eggs, protect them till they hatch, and care for the young alligators until they can fend for themselves.
Do male alligators protect their young?
Male alligators play virtually no role in the care of their young. It’s the female alligators that provide all the care from the time they lay the eggs to the time the young gators are old enough to compete for food and resources.
Do mother alligators protect their young?
Yes, mother alligators protect their young, and they do it passionately! They are devoted moms and provide both food and protection for their young.
Do mother alligators stay with their young?
Yes, a mother gator typically stays with her babies from when she lays the eggs to when they hatch and grow. She may provide care and protection for the young alligators for up to a year or two.