Yes, alligators eat fish. Fish is the main diet of alligators, which applies to both juveniles and adults. Big gators eat rough fish, and they also expand the menu by eating turtles, amphibians, and small mammals.
When alligators are small, they hunt fingerlings (small fish) and insects. Then, as they get bigger, they graduate to eating amphibians like frogs and salamanders, provided that these amphibians are present in their environment.
How do Alligators Hunt Fish?
Alligators hunt fish using the tactile sensors on their nose, which can detect small movements in the water. When an alligator detects a fish, it will use its powerful tail to propel it towards it, and its strong bite to grab it out the water.
Alligators spend time in the water. They are powerful swimmers, and they can stay submerged in water for a long time. On average, a gator stays underwater for 15 minutes to hunt.
The way they hunt is similar to how crocodiles do it. They lie in wait and ambush their prey. Sometimes, they put their bodies underwater, but their snouts are above.
If a fish passes by, they bite with a snap. This bite is fast and powerful—and the unsuspecting fish gets caught in the alligator’s jaws.
Alligators will sometimes stay in shallow waters. They wait for the fish to come by and hit them. Sometimes, some fish are hurt, and they cannot swim. If this happens, the gator will have an easy fish meal.
For small fish, the gator will swallow it in one gulp. A big fish will take some time to rip apart. Sometimes, a fellow alligator will try to rip it off from another gator.
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What Types of Fish do Alligators Eat?
Alligators will eat almost anything, they are opportunistic feeders. Alligators feed on any fish they can find in their habitat, including red snappers, sea trout, and bass.
It is estimated that there are 200,000 alligators in the Florida Everglades. If one thinks about it, these gators have a lot of fish to choose from. In the entire state of Florida, there are about 1.5 million alligators.
Here are some types of fish found in the Everglades:
- Red Snapper – found inshore and tidal creeks; the red snapper is dark brown to gray with reddish or orange spots. It has two canine teeth that it uses to hunt and eat prey. It is also common offshore and can weigh up to ten pounds.
- Sea Trout – the sea trout is a migratory fish that is a common name to many types of fish. The most common in the Everglades is the spotted sea trout. It is a tasty one that a lot of people hunt. This fish stays inshore, but they can hang out in waters as deep as 33 feet.
- Redfish – the redfish stays in shallow waters, and they are huge. They are the bulldogs of the Everglades, and they will readily pounce on artificial baits. They are available all year, but August to February are the best months to hunt them.
- Bluegill – a member of the sunfish family, the bluegill has dark bars. They are thin and flattish in appearance. They have a large black spot near the base of their dorsal fin. They live mostly in ponds, creeks, and large rivers.
- Everglades Bass – there are many types of bass fish in the everglades, such as the largemouth bass and the peacock bass. They are one of the favorites of anglers. However, the government issued a warning that the Everglades bass has a high content of mercury.
The Everglades is protected. While fishing is not disallowed, there are many rules. People need a license to fish in the area. As such, fish and other types of food are abundant for alligators.
Because of the regulation, the fish colonies have enough time to replenish their numbers. As a protected place, the gators will have a guaranteed source of food—this will work for as long as people do not introduce invasive species in the habitat.
Read Also: Do Fish Eat Snakes?
What is an Alligators’ Favorite Food?
There is no such thing as favorite food for alligators. Alligators are opportunistic hunters, and they will eat anything that they can find.
Alligators have also been known to eat fruits and berries. While alligators are primarily carnivores, they will eat grapes and citrus fruits from time to time.
Though no one has seen them eat fruits and veggies, an inspection of the stomach content of dead alligators shows that they ate vegetation and fruits.
In a recent news story, an alligator took a watermelon from a watermelon field. According to experts, it is likely that the gator was fed watermelon once and developed a taste for it.
It is one of the reasons authorities do not want people to feed gators. They will learn to associate food with humans and eventually lose their natural fear for humans.
Do Alligators Eat Fish Underwater?
Alligators hunt underwater, but they can not eat underwater. They hunt for fish, but they eat and swallow at the water’s surface or on dry land.
When underwater, the gator closes its palatal valve. It can open its mouth to bite, but water will not go through its throat and lungs. But when it swallows, it has to open this valve.
As such, the gator has to go to the surface and open its throat to swallow. It will never do this underwater, as it can drown. Contrary to what some people say, there is no type of alligator that can breathe underwater.
When gators hunt underwater, they simply look for food and bite the prey. They do not eat food underwater as sharks and fishes do.
Alligators eat fish, and they have no preferences. They eat what they can find. As opportunistic hunters, they will eat prey they can easily overpower.
Be it a juvenile or adult alligator, fish is part of the animal’s main diet. When young, they hunt fingerlings. As they mature, they hunt bigger animals like frogs. As an adult, they balance their diet between sea animals and land-based mammals.
Stuart is the editor of Fauna Facts. He edits our writers’ work as well as contributing his own content. Stuart is passionate about sustainable farming and animal welfare and has written extensively on cows and geese for the site.