Tetrapod Zoology

For millenia, a battle has raged between alligators and water melons. Who will win? Well, the answer’s obvious: one has a bite force of over 15,000 Newtons, and the other one’s a water melon. Yes, the alligator vs water melon craze has gone mainstream, as testified by its appearance on Sky News… though, god help them, they managed to mistake an alligator for a crocodile. Hopeless. Anyway…



It’s gratifying and amusing to see an alligator destroy a water melon with such devastating ease [for more information, see the accompanying text at youtube]. But there are a few other things of interest. The neat little bounding leap that the alligator does before dispatching its foe almost looks playful. If I was prone to rampant speculation I’d wonder if the alligator shown in the clip knew what was about to happen and was looking forward to it. Recall that play behaviour has now been reported for crocodilians. Actually, the alligator shown in action here (called Doofy, it belongs to Gator Adventure Productions) is engaging in some enrichment behaviour: it’s reported that Doofy and the other alligators seems to enjoy crushing up melons.

i-c6dfc02a1ae2afd82c50fab377925217-Orinoco_croc_eating_leaves_St-Augustine-June-2009.jpg

Also of note is that Doofy actually eats some of the melon at the end of the clip, and that other ‘gators are shown eating melons too. Long-time readers will realise the importance of this: ever since Brito et al. (2002) there’s been a debate as to how important fruit might be in the crocodilian diet. I covered this back in October 2008 when I learnt about the fruit-eating antics of the alligators at the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park. John Brueggen (2002) published accounts of cases where captive alligators and crocodiles were seen eating limes, kumquats and other fruits, as well as leaves [adjacent picture, from Brueggen's online version of the article, shows an Orinoco crocodile Crocodylus intermedius eating leaves]. Well, here are yet more fruit-eating alligators.

Thanks once again to Markus Bühler for the heads-up!

For previous articles on amazing crocodilians see…

Refs – –

Brito, S. P., Andrade, D. V. & Abe, A. S. 2002. Do caimans eat fruit? Herpetological Natural History 9, 95-96.

Brueggen, J. 2002. Crocodilians: fact vs. fiction. In International Union of the Conservation of Nature, Crocodile Specialist Group 1, pp. 204-210.

Comments

  1. #1 Daniel N
    June 27, 2009

    Didn’t know alligator would actually eat the watermelon :p

  2. #2 Michael Erickson
    June 27, 2009

    That’s just too cool. And I’m referring to both how the Alligator mississippiensis pounded that friggin’ melon to a pulp, AND the fact that the archosaur ate the melon afterwords. I’ve been completly fascinated with fruit-eating crocodilians ever since I first read about them here on the Tet Zoo. Sorry to throw dinosaurs into this, but I can’t help but imagine Tyrannosaurus rex occasionally eating Cretaceous fruits.
    Anyway, now I feel I must warn everyone of the (presumably) oncoming Creationist bullshite about how frugivory in crocodilians is a left-over from when everything in the Garden of Eden was an herbivore.

  3. #3 Jura
    June 27, 2009

    Hmm, given all the recent talk on the DML and Archosaur Musings, regarding gastroliths in crocodylians, I can’t help but wonder if the continued ingestion of stomach stones after a meal, might be a rather recent holdover from a more omnivorous time.

  4. #4 Bob Michaels
    June 27, 2009

    If fruit is good for us humans it has to be good thru out the animal kingdom.

  5. #5 José
    June 27, 2009

    I don’t know how people can argue that watermelon boarding is not torture.

  6. #6 Willy
    June 28, 2009

    well… I think its not so cracy at all… in the fossil record there are at least 3 examples of well developed herbivory in crocs… obviously in extint groups (nothosuchia)…. but there is a sertain degree of omnivory in the record of the extant familys as well

    its too late and Im tired…. but tomorrow I will look the names of those herbivor-crocs…. one is from china, thats for shure…and I think the other too where form here, from Argentina and Brasil

  7. #7 willy
    June 28, 2009

    sorry for those spelling mistakes…. once again… I’m waaaay too tired

  8. #8 Allen Hazen
    June 28, 2009

    Well, yes, but watermelons aren’t the HARDEST fruit to crunch. The real question (for those of us impressed by the rigorous… well, ingenious… scientific work coming out of the creationist camp is… COULD Tyrannosaurus rex have bitten into a … coconut?

    (On the more serious side, I’m familiar with examples of dietary, um, open-mindedness of what are usually thought of as dietarily limited species, but most of the examples I first encountered were in the other direction: occasional carnivory by herbivorous species (sea-bid feet eaten by Hebridean sheep, lemmings by caribou). This is in the other direction: plant matter eaten by carnivores. Fruit is easy to digest, but leaves?)

  9. #9 Robert
    June 28, 2009

    The destruction of the Melon was amazing – but the happy chomping of the same afterwards was even more so!

    What next? Rocket Salad with Balsamic Vinegar dressing? Yum!

  10. #10 Don Cox
    June 28, 2009

    “If fruit is good for us humans it has to be good thru out the animal kingdom.”

    Not necessarily. For example, we cannot synthesise Vitamin C, but rats can – so they don’t need limes on long sea voyages.

  11. #11 AnnaZed
    June 28, 2009

    Is it just me, or is the man in that video way to close to that alligator, sort of taunting him and being … well … really stupid and placing himself in danger?

  12. #12 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    Nah, I don’t think he’s in danger. Alligators are really not as prone to attack as a lot of people think. You can drag an alligator out of the water by its tail – but try this with a crocodile and you’re head would be that watermelon. Besides, as Darren noted, that charge at the beginning looks playful rather than agressive.

  13. #13 Jura
    June 28, 2009

    If one watches some of the other videos from Gator Adventures, one will find that they train their alligators early on to handle human interaction well.

    For instance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uHSblz3BvyE&feature=channel_page

  14. #14 Nick Gardner
    June 28, 2009

    “in the fossil record there are at least 3 examples of well developed herbivory in crocs… obviously in extint groups (nothosuchia)…. but there is a sertain degree of omnivory in the record of the extant familys as well”

    Among crocodylomorphs, feeding is surprisingly more diverse than most people give credit. Discussion by Harris et al. (2000) in the description of Phyllodontosuchus is not a bad general overview of heterodonty and deviations from a predominantly carnivorous diet in crocodylomorphs (despite that the actual description of the material is poor and the figures and photographs are terrible). While Pol et al. (2004) described a new specimen of Edentosuchus from China, they did not discuss feeding or function. Recent work by South American palaeontologists remains as probably the most detailed discussion of feeding and function among heterodont crocodylomorphs.

    And of course, there are truly bizarre cases such as Mourasuchus and Stomatosuchus which feeding and function have not been discussed in any great length outside of the popular literature and passing comments in the technical literature….

  15. #15 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    Nick Gardner: What did you mean on the other thread when you said that you would “keep my name killfiled until my comments account for a worthless forty percent of the thread”?

  16. #16 jck
    June 28, 2009

    But how far can they spit the seeds?

  17. #17 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    “But how far can they spit the seeds?”

    Really far! Read this in the Journal of Retarded Nonsense (issue 3,522):

    Bozo the Clown et al. (2009) Measuring the distance that Aliigator mississippiensis can spit watermelon seeds.

    The authors conclude that your average alligator can spit seeds very, very far – 52.5 miles, to be exact.

  18. #18 Willy
    June 28, 2009

    A perfect example of heterodonty is Simosuchus… and fortunately you can chek it out at digimorph… its amasing… the most bizarre dentition I’ve ever seen in crocodyliformes by far

    and since someone cited Diego Pol… here’s a cite worth looking at  Pol, D. 2003. New remains of Sphagesaurus huenei (Crocodylomorpha: Mesoeucrocodylia) from the Late Cretaceous of Brazil. Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology 24: 817–831.

  19. #19 Mary
    June 28, 2009

    Michael Erickson–how old are you? I sense the fan-boy syndrome.

  20. #20 Michael Erickson
    June 28, 2009

    What do you mean? And what’s the fan-boy syndrome?

  21. #21 Melon J. Melon
    June 28, 2009

    This isn’t over! We melons are made of sterner stuff than you think!

  22. #22 Lilian Nattel
    June 28, 2009

    Yes, I remember the post on play. Thanks for the interesting points on the video!

  23. #23 David Marjanović
    June 29, 2009

    Nick Gardner: What did you mean on the other thread when you said that you would “keep my name killfiled until my comments [do not] account for a worthless forty percent of the thread [anymore]“?

    That he’s told Firefox to hide all your comments from you, so he won’t see them. This means he can’t answer your question; he doesn’t know you asked it.

    The start of this page should be helpful.

  24. #24 Memo Koseman
    June 29, 2009

    That charge in the beginning… you can almost see Pristichampus in there.

  25. #25 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    I’m really not sure why Nick wants to hide my comments, for I am not some kind of troll-nut like Peter Mihalda or John Jackson, and I have done absolutely nothing wrong. I feel it’s senseless rudeless, but… Oh well, he lost a blog reader. For Nick (even though he can’t see it) – I LOVE THEROPODS! =B-)

    Pristchampsus – now there’s something I’d like to see a skeletal reconstruction of. I suppose because it’s not a dinosaur a skeletal doesn’t even exist?

  26. #26 cm
    June 29, 2009

    Funny post, charming video, interesting alligator ethology. Thanks, Darren!

  27. #27 David Marjanović
    June 29, 2009

    I’m really not sure why Nick wants to hide my comments, for I am not some kind of troll-nut like Peter Mihalda or John Jackson, and I have done absolutely nothing wrong.

    You have done something wrong: you’ve flooded the blog with lots and lots of comments from you. Not all of them are that interesting…

    I suppose because it’s not a dinosaur a skeletal doesn’t even exist?

    A skeletal reconstruction does exist, but it’s in a journal that still doesn’t produce pdfs (Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie… I forgot if Abhandlungen or Monatshefte). It’s in a paper on the biomechanics of the animal (Rossmann 1998) which is, IIRC, in German.

    BTW, the paper supports full terrestriality, galloping, and some amount of bipedal running.

  28. #28 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    I know I’ve commented way too much, but I think I’ve cut it down a good deal recently. I never really meant any harm, I had just never commented on a blog before (don’t know why) and I went completely beserk without even meaning too. I don’t really think being WAY WAY WAY over-enthusiastic is grounds for being insanely rude (as in the case of [I shall not metion names]), or blocking comments – we should save that for folks like Peter Mihalda, who deserve it. Sure, I went totaly crazy with comments, but I don’t deserve being treated like crap and having my comments blocked. Anyway, I really don’t care what Nick or anyone else thinks about me, so I’ll just drop it. However, I would like to thank you, David Marjanovic, for being kind to me even when I was annoying and prolific with postings. Thank you. :-)
    Oh, and I’d do ANYTHING to get that Pristichampsus paper! ANYTHING! I can’t really read German, but I don’t care. I want that thing! But I suppose there’s probably no way to get a copy. Oh well, life will go on. :-(

  29. #29 Zach Miller
    June 29, 2009

    I stay away from foreign papers. Can’t read ‘em, and sometimes the figures are horrible or, worse, absent entirely. Acta Geologica Sinica is particuarly awful in this regard. I’m not saying that foreign papers aren’t worth anybody’s time, but there are more practical ways to get the same information.

  30. #30 Dave Godfrey
    June 29, 2009

    If you have access to the British Library, then you should be able to get a copy of the paper. Your local university library may carry it, but it isn’t guaranteed. Back when I was doing my undergrad research I found one of my most useful papers in that journal at the BL. Fortunately the one I was after was in English.

  31. #31 Michael Erickson
    June 29, 2009

    Thanks for the tips, guys. What I really need is that skeletal reconstruction that’s in the paper, but I don’t have access to the British Library, and it looks like there’s just no way. Would it really kill that journal to make PDFs? Oh well. *Crouches in a fetal position on the floor and weeps uncontrolably* :-)

  32. #32 Jura
    June 29, 2009

    Arggh, I’ve been trying to get these bloody Rossman papers for years now (there are at least 2 on Pristichampsus). Alas, all I can hope for is that one day, one of my I.L.L. requests finally succeeds.

    Or that I bring a personal scanner along, should I ever make a London trip. :)

  33. #33 Nick Gardner
    June 29, 2009

    Jura: Good luck on that. While I’ve gotten some nice things lately through ILL (Stromer’s Libycosuchus and Stomatosuchus descriptions, for one), I’ve had no luck getting any of Rossmann’s stuff. :-(

    I’ve really wanted his paper on Proterosuchus skull biomechanics.

  34. #34 David Marjanović
    June 30, 2009

    Wow! I didn’t even know there was such a paper on Proterosuchus!

    Something like 3 weeks from now, I should be able to send the Pristichampsus biomechanics paper to interested parties by snail-mail. Interested parties can find my e-mail address in Google Scholar.

    (And yes, Rossmann has done an entire series of papers on that beast.)

  35. #35 Michael Erickson
    June 30, 2009

    I’m an interested party – Does the paper include the figures, David? And is david dot marjanovic at gmx dot at [edited by Darren] the right email adress?

  36. #36 David Marjanović
    June 30, 2009

    Yes, it’s a photocopy of the original. And yes, that’s the right e-mail address; I didn’t want to repeat it here because I really get enough spam already. (Are you new on the Internet?)

  37. #37 Michael Erickson
    June 30, 2009

    Nah, I’ve been using the Internet for quite a while now. I am very excited about seeing that paper, even though I am well aware that snail mail often takes decades. :-) It’s very kind of you to send it to us Pristichampsus-deprived folks. Thank you so much, David!

  38. #38 Jura
    June 30, 2009

    Michael Erickson – I think you missed David’s point. It’s considered bad netiquette to post one’s e-mail in a public forum. It lets spambots nab it and add it to their mass mailing lists.

    In the future, if you feel the need to ask a similar question, doing something as simple as spelling out “at” instead of using the @ sign, would be a better method.

  39. #39 Michael Erickson
    June 30, 2009

    Yep, it seems I did miss the point. Ya see, for some reason I’ve never really have problems wiuth spam and junk, so I didn’t know. Thanks for the heads up.

  40. #40 Michael Erickson
    July 1, 2009

    Again, I do apologize for displaying the email adress – as I said, I personally have never had any problems with spammers, so I was pretty clueless. Now I’ll quit posting on this thread so my comments don’t start to pile up too bad.

  41. #41 David Marjanović
    July 1, 2009

    Just one thing: I probably can’t scan the paper at home. So I’ll have to snail-mail you a photocopy (and no sooner than 3 weeks from now at that). You’ll need to send me your snail-mail address via e-mail.

  42. #42 Michael Erickson
    July 1, 2009

    Okie dokie, David. Thanks again!

  43. #43 Rob Jase
    July 1, 2009

    I would just like to point out that watermelons can live in much cooler climates than alligators.

    Are gators part of the GW conspiracy?

  44. #44 simon
    July 1, 2009

    Whilst not strictly related, we had a dog that used to eat vegetables – not just the occasional nibble at grass then vomit but full on begging for raw carrots, broccoli & cauliflower, she didn’t like tomatoes though.
    Possibly there is something in fruit, (possibly enzymes?), that these reptiles instictively know they need to aid digestion – is this a plausible concept?
    Could it be that there is a nice little biomass convertor using fruit enzymes & gastroliths to assit with digestion & maximise nutrient return to tide them over long periods of no food?
    By the way I am not a scientist but am a curious individual about this sort of thing.

  45. #45 Jura
    July 2, 2009

    Alternatively, crocodylians might know the importance of being regular. :)

  46. #46 Rosel
    July 4, 2009

    Ouch Zach Miller, that’s pretty harsh and comes across as terribly condescending.

    If anyone can send me a copy of the Rossmann Paper(s) I can probably translate it. (a degree in German has to be good for something right ? )

  47. #47 Marco Zeno
    July 13, 2009

    So glad that our video has sparked some scientific debate. Much of what we do at Gator Adventure Productions, is take what we “know” about alligators and challenge it. We draw inspiration from all kinds of sources. Like it stated in the article alligators eating vegetable matter has been documented a quite a few times in captivity, we have seen a lot of success offering alternative food sources such as watermelon for enrichment. Alligator training is something else we do a lot of focusing on, since reptile training has evolved exponentially in the last 10 or so years. These are the kind of things we are focusing on to improve quality of life, safety, and guest experiences within our company. If anyone has questions about observations we have made or even suggestions on new and innovative things to try, email me at MarcoZeno@gatoradventresite.com – Loved the article will post a link to it on our website if that’s OK.

  48. #48 Graham King
    January 24, 2010

    #44

    we had a dog that used to eat vegetables

    We had a golden cocker spaniel Saffron who loved melon. Given a slice, she would hold it down with both paws and quite neatly nip at it to and fro removing the flesh. Then we had to take the rind away or she would start in on that too, which we figured would not be good for her.
    I think part of her enjoyment was the crunchy texture, since she also enjoyed perforating corrugated cardboard with her teeth (not eating it though).
    She also loved tearing up tissues or at least often did this if left alone in the house. I presume it relieved boredom. She would manage to find a tissue from somewhere or other. OK, off-topic.

    Back to fruit-eating..
    We tried her with chunks of coconut but she sicked it up. I think she had not really understood to chew it first.
    Given a grape, she appeared to be chewing vigorously but after a while dropped the grape back out of her mouth, intact. She did this several times. Seems like she was either just playing with it, or gave up when it didn’t soften.. not occurring to her to actually bite it.
    Hey, maybe grape size and rolliness and the difference in dog’s dentition and mouth-shape from ours, makes intra-oral handling of grapes too difficult? Data please, anyone!

  49. #49 Nathan Hofstad
    January 27, 2011

    Kill Doofy! Destroy!

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