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Kumquat-Eating Crocodilians: Crocs And Gators Love Their Fruits and Veggies

Grapes and berries, fruit and veggies--crocodiles and alligators eat more than meat

Photo: Alex G.

Floating silently beneath the water, scaled eyes poking up, waiting for unsuspecting prey to wander by—that’s the familiar image of a hunting alligator. Sitting at the base of a kumquat tree, picking off fruit? Not so much.

But, apparently, many alligator and crocodile species will happily garnish their wildebeest with a side of fruits and veggies. According to a new study, reviewing and building on what we know about crocodilian dining, most species of crocs and gators will eat plants.

It’s not totally unheard of for crocodilians to be eating fruits and veggies, says New Scientist, but the idea of a crocodile enjoying a nice salad is certainly surprising for those of us used to thinking of these toothy hunters as strict carnivores.

“Reports that crocodiles have a taste for fruit go back decades, says Thomas Rainwater at the US Fish and Wildlife Service in Charleston, South Carolina. “But since these animals were long considered carnivores, no one paid much attention.”

Brian Switek says that scientists have seen crocs eating fruit in captivity. “The question is whether this happens in the wild.”

Different alligators and crocodiles will eat all sorts of fruits and veggies, says Switek, everything from “wild grape, elderberry, and various citrus fruits” to pears, apples, and even corn.

Why crocodylians are eating fruits and seeds, as well as how they’re detecting the plants, is unclear. With the exception of a fruit hitting the water and the crocodylian snapping in reflex, the attraction of fruits and seeds to the carnivores is a mystery. But, contrary what was traditionally assumed about their digestive systems, crocodylians are capable of breaking down the carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in vegetable matter, so the fruit-eating by these archosaurs could be a nutritional supplement and not just a mistake or unusual behavior.

More from Smithsonian.com:

A Cat-Like Crocodile from the Cretaceous
Ocean Currents are Highways for Crocodiles
Crocodile And Alligator Jaws Are More Sensitive Than Human Fingertips

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About Colin Schultz
Colin Schultz

Colin Schultz is a freelance science writer and editor based in Toronto, Canada. He blogs for Smart News and contributes to the American Geophysical Union. He has a B.Sc. in physical science and philosophy, and a M.A. in journalism.

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