Food Habits of Native Wild and Farm-released Juvenile Alligators

Stomach contents of 108 juvenile alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) were analyzed to determine if alligators hatched and raised in captivity (until 120-cm size) then released to the wild would be capable of foraging successfully for food. Seventyeight farm-reared, post-released alligators harvested during the 1991 annual alligator hunt on Marsh Island Wildlife Refuge and 30 native wild alligators harvested of similar size class were selected and stomach contents compared. Crustaceans were the most important prey item among all alligators, with blue crabs (Callinectes sapidus) being the most frequently occurring item. Fish and mollusks occurred more frequently in wild alligators, whereas farm-released alligators consumed more birds and mammals. Native alligator stomachs contained significantly more (P < 0.05) endohelminths than farm-released alligators. Lateral fat bodies were significantly heavier (P < 0.05) in farm-released alligators than native wild alligators. These data suggest that alligators raised entirely in captivity (and provided food ad libitum), then released into the wild, are able to forage for food and hunt as successfully as native alligators.

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