Sunday, March 27, 2011

Keep Your Enemies Closer - Alligators and Turtles

Alligators eat turtles. It’s not their number one choice on the menu but they have no qualms about eating them. Sliders, cooters, softshells, snappers. If they can chomp them and swallow them – down they go. But that doesn’t mean they can’t tolerate each other.
Alligators have one of the most powerful bites in the natural world. Their teeth are not sharp, nor can they chew, but an adult alligator can exert more than 2000 lbs of pressure per square inch of their jaw. With 80 concrete-like pegs for teeth they can snap that jaw shut with lightning speed and make a delicious meal out of the crunchiest turtle. The problem with turtles is not that they have shells but the style of the shellFlorida Softshell Turtles (Apalone ferox) are quick and pliable. Normally they can squeeze into the narrowest crevices to avoid danger. The tenacious turtle in the bottom right photo went for a ride in the jaws of the alligator but eventually escaped. Yes that’s the poor thing’s snout.

 and Cooters can grow well-rounded carapaces (the upper half of their shell) which makes eating them all the more problematic. Imagine trying to eat a baseball-sized walnut. In the shell. Your mouth is too small and your jaw is not strong enough. A turtle with a high shell might get captured in the jaws of an alligator but it may be difficult for the gator to chomp down. Often a large turtle will escape with a slightly cracked shell or a tooth mark or two.
Alligators have a seemingly unending supply of teeth. Beneath each of the 80 conical teeth is another tooth ready to go, so if one is lost in a turtle-eating attempt, the alligator has plenty more where that came from.
In the top photo, the turtles were polite enough to allow the alligator the choicest of basking spots on the log. “You go first. We’ve got your back.” This alligator is far too small to sample any of the four turtles relaxing behind it. Plus feeding time for alligators is usually after sundown. Of course, there’s nothing keeping another bigger alligator from clearing the log of all occupants.

1 comment:

  1. If a slider mates with a cooter, is it a scooter?