From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published August 21, 2013 11:56 AM

Crocodiles and Alligators Caught Eating Fruit

Alligators and crocodiles seem a little less intimidating now that new research reveals they enjoy an occasional fruit during meals.

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While usually known as being top predators, a new study published in the July issue of the Journal of Zoology confirms that alligators do not live on meat alone. Neither do Nile crocodiles.

A study led by the Wildlife Conservation Society says that the American alligator and a dozen other crocodile species occasionally eat fruit along with their normal meat-heavy diets of mammals, birds, and fish.

The study gives new insight into the possible role that crocodilians, some of which have large territories, may play in forest regeneration through digesting and passing seeds from fruits. Similar to the way birds eat seeds and disperse them over long distances after ingestion, or endozoochory, alligators and crocodiles may too be a vector for plant growth as their scat would contain seeds, which may eventually root themselves and grow into a new plant. 

The authors looked at 18 species of crocodilian ranging from the American alligator to the fearsome Nile crocodile and found 13 of the species consumed some form of fruit including a variety of berries, legumes, nuts, and grains.

While the authors say some of the fruit ingestion may have been incidental to prey capture, evidence shows that other fruit is consumed deliberately and in large quantities. Much remains to be learned about how crocodilians process carbohydrates and other plant-based nutrients, though studies suggests that fruit eating is likely to yield nutritional rewards for crocodilians.

"Although underreported, fruit eating appears widespread among crocodilians," said the study's lead author, Steven Platt of the Wildlife Conservation Society. "Given the biomass of crocodiles in many subtropical and tropical wetlands and their capacity for ingesting large numbers of fruits, we consider it likely that crocodilians function as significant seed dispersal agents in many freshwater ecosystems." 

Previous studies have shown that herbivory in these reptiles has been recorded quite a few times, however the general feeling is that such acts were accidental. New observations however are confirming that these species may in fact enjoy these fruits and may provide an alternative to stalking prey. 

Whether these predators should be considered strict carnivores or not, the moral of the story is: a little fruit can go a long way — especially when it comes to transporting seeds.

See more at EurkeAlert.

The study was led by the Wildlife Conservation Society.

Alligator image via Shutterstock.

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