Alligators have a reputation of being gnarly, ferocious beasts that bear an all-too-similar resemblance to their dinosaur relatives. It's an understandable assumption -- American alligators can be up to 15 feet long and weigh 1,000 pounds -- and because they're apex predators, will eat just about anything, according to National Geographic.
But research by the the University of Florida and National Geographic's Crittercam program has shifted assumptions about their eating habits. The groups outfitted 15 adult gators in coastal Florida with the "Crittercams" -- essentially wildlife cameras that are attached to the animals themselves -- and they've provided unprecedented footage of gator behavior both above and underwater.
The cameras showed the reptiles hunting most often at night, with the best foraging success between 4 a.m. and 9 a.m. and when submerged underwater, according to the Los Angeles Times. Additionally, footage showed gators feasting on smaller prey like turtles and crayfish, rather than bigger mammals that they're assumed to eat. This is the first time this behavior has been documented in wild American alligators and will help scientists better understand their behavior, explained ScienceDaily. The results of the study were published in the journal PLOS ONE.
As shown in the video, installing the cameras was no easy feat. The researchers had to catch the alligators, hold them down and keep their jaws shut as they fastened the cameras onto the gators to fit like a backpack. The contraptions release themselves after set times, which enables scientists to track down the cameras with a radio signal and not burden the gators with Crittercams for life.
American alligators live throughout the southeastern United States from Florida to North Carolina, and occupy primarily freshwater habitats, like swampy areas, rivers, streams, lakes and ponds. Previously on the brink of extinction, these semi-aquatic reptiles have recovered and are now listed as Threatened under the Endangered Species Act.