What Do Alligators Eat?

© Ernie Hounshell/Shutterstock.com

Written by Kirstin Harrington

Published: January 12, 2023

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Alligators are enormous reptiles, like other crocodilians, with strong tails that are utilized for both navigation and combat. These reptiles frequently float at the water’s surface, and when they do, their eyes, ears, and nose are situated on top of their long heads and protrude somewhat above the water. The shape of their mouth and teeth allows alligators to be distinguished from real crocodiles. But what do alligators eat? Here’s everything you need to know about what they eat and how they hunt their prey! 

What Do American Alligators Eat?


Alligators eat a range of different things, including fish and small mammals.

©Ernie Hounshell/Shutterstock.com

Alligators are mostly carnivores that eat some of the following:

Alligators can be found in two distinct regions of the world, and there are two main types that scientists have identified: American alligators and Chinese alligators. These two alligator species are distinct from their crocodile counterparts in terms of their stature, blunt snouts, and susceptibility to salty water. 

The American alligator occasionally consumes non-prey things like pebbles and soda cans. All the more reason to clean up litter anytime we see it! 

What Do Chinese Alligators Eat?

The other type of alligator located outside of the Americas is a severely endangered relative of the American alligator. The Chinese alligator is a native of China’s lower Yangtze River’s slow-moving freshwater regions, where it feeds on:

The Chinese alligator is a scavenger who feeds on scraps. The dentition features blunt teeth that are ideally suited for shattering animals with shells. Chinese alligators at the National Zoo at the Smithsonian are given young rats, mice, and fish.

How Do Alligators Hunt?

Alligators typically hunt in water where they patiently lie in wait for their prey.

©iStock.com/Cindy Larson

Typically, alligators don’t hunt on land. They struggle to move quickly on land and cannot efficiently pursue prey. However, to keep animals away from their eggs, alligators have been known to attack other terrestrial animals. 

They also engage in brief pursuits to drive potential predators from their territory. Crocodiles and alligators both lurk in the water. Just their snouts and eyes are visible above the surface as they conceal themselves by submerging in the dark water. 

Alligators remain still for the ideal opportunity to attack. They simply wait for something to swim or come by on land. The alligator then clamps its strong jaws and pulls the victim into the water if it is within striking distance. The alligator uses all of its strength to pull away after getting a bite. It possesses a lot of physical strength and, if necessary, will perform the death roll. 

Using Water to Their Advantage

Although they lack the ability to smell underwater, integumentary sense organs (ISOs) located on their nose and face enable them to detect minute movements in the water brought on by fish or other animals. 

Despite being capable of drowning, alligators do have a palatal valve that they seal when submerged. If they move their jaws to bite, this valve keeps water from getting into their esophagus. Alligators are neither fish nor amphibians, therefore they cannot breathe underwater, yet they have a long breath-holding capacity. 

The alligator will resurface if it has been successful in its attack and has the victim in their mouth, at which point they will bite more forcefully and devour it. Alligators don’t ingest prey that is submerged due to not being able to breathe underwater.

How Often Do Alligators Eat?


Alligators can sometimes go without food for a week after eating a meal.

©Jim Schwabel/Shutterstock.com

Due to being cold-blooded, alligators do not eat as frequently as warm-blooded creatures. After consuming a meal, an adult alligator can continue without eating for a week. The season also affects how often alligators eat. 

They start a process known as brumation, for instance, when their metabolism slows down and becomes lethargic throughout the winter. Alligators engage in brumation, a peculiar type of hibernation that is produced by the cold weather. Alligators don’t eat as much in colder months as they do in the summer.

Do Alligators Hunt Humans?

Humans are not hunted by alligators. Despite the fact that there are a number of alligator attacks each year, the majority of alligator assaults are the result of people intruding on alligator habitats since they are too big to be prey for most alligators. 

Alligators do not deliberately go looking for humans to eat in the wild. Locations where alligators are fed by people sometimes have issues. Alligators will link humans with food if they do this, which is why many people were killed by them.

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About the Author

Kirstin is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering animals, news topics, fun places, and helpful tips. Kirstin has been writing on a variety of topics for over five years. She has her real estate license, along with an associates degree in another field. A resident of Minnesota, Kirstin treats her two cats (Spook and Finlay) like the children they are. She never misses an opportunity to explore a thrift store with a coffee in hand, especially if it’s a cold autumn day!

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