Alligators demand baby sacrifice for protection

The birds give birth to more chicks than they can care for.

Ian Marsh | May 01, 2016

The Florida swamp is one of the most saturated ecosystems in America. It has a combination of many predators and intermediate predators. The king of the marsh is the ten-foot alligator that patrols the waters. However, other predators like the raccoons are just as lethal as the reptile to wading birds.

When raccoons attack a wading bird's nest such as an egret, it eats everything it will find including babies and eggs. This can lead to a quick extinction of the bird. For this reason, the water birds have formed and uneasy alliance with the big reptiles.

The birds give birth to more chicks than they can care for. The excess chicks are sacrificed to the alligators as food. The alligators, in turn, stay near the nest as guards scaring off the other predators. The wading birds view the alligators as the necessary evil as they do not destroy the whole nest.

"They're just taking advantage of what they know to be a food source," said Lucas Nell, the lead scientist of the experiment. "Our study is the first to demonstrate a mutually beneficial relationship between nesting birds and a crocodilian. Nesting wading birds provide nutrition for alligators that, by their mere presence, create predator-free space for birds."

This theory has been proved as scientists did an experiment three years ago where they weighed alligators near the nests and those further down the swamp. The result showed that the alligators closer to the swarm were almost six kilograms heavier than their counterparts.

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