The American Alligator Detects Food Chemicals in Aquatic and Terrestrial Environments


Department of Biology, Texas A & M University, College Station, TX 77843, U.S.A.


American alligators (Alligator mississippiensis) were offered raw meat or animal carcasses under water or on land in experiments where only chemoreception could be used to discriminate between these and control materials. Alligators also were presented with aqueous extracts and airborne chemicals from meat. Juvenile alligators, tested in indoor tanks, opened more cheesecloth packets containing meat than control packets when these materials were placed under water and on platforms above the water surface. Adult alligators, tested in outdoor semi-natural enclosures, removed more cheesecloth-wrapped meat presented under water, and more of both meat and raccoon (Procyon lotor) carcasses placed under perforated baskets on land, than control materials. Juvenile alligators, tested in tanks partially filled with water, exhibited more lateral head movements and mouth-openings to an aqueous beef extract than to water alone. Juvenile alligators, tested in an olfactometer, exhibited more gular pumps to airborne chemicals from beef than to distilled water. These experiments indicate that alligators may use chemical cues to locate food both on land and under water, and that they detect both water- and airborne chemicals from meat.