A nature photographer had a shock earlier this month when she set out to photograph a beautiful sunset, and instead stumbled across a large alligator in the process of devouring a smaller one. The encounter happened on March 6 at Orlando Wetlands Park, which is a popular destination for hiking, birding, and photography.
According to the Miami Herald, D’Angelo was waiting for the perfect moment to capture a landscape shot when she heard a huge splash behind her.
“Turning around I saw an alligator with something dark in his mouth,” she said. “I’ve got pictures of alligators eating ducks, so that was my first thought. Being a wildlife photographer for seven years brought the camera to my eye. I just started shooting.”
D’Angelo shared her work on a Facebook group dedicated to the park, asking whether the smaller creature may be a tegu lizard, but other members confirmed that it was indeed a smaller gator.
“He was snapping his prey’s neck with the first slam. The others were to crush bones and pulverize it. All like snap, snap, crack!” said D’Angelo.
Although shocking to witness first-hand, alligator cannibalism is quite common. In August 2018, another wildlife photographer came across a similar scene in a marsh near coastal Texas. As Live Science reported at the time, Brad Streets initially spotted what appeared to be entrails floating in the water near a large gator. Upon closer inspection, he realized there was a smaller animal within its jaws.
“The larger males, they’re opportunistic. They see a smaller alligator – it’s a nice snack for them,” research biologist James Nifong said. “It usually happens with larger adult males that have established a certain territory. During mating season, when subordinate males come along, they fight – and the winner eats the loser.”
Alligator attacks on humans are very rare, and you can avoid a close encounter by taking some simple precautions. Watch out for clues like large indentations in the mud where the animals have been resting beside lakes and rivers. You may also spot smears of mud where an alligator has slid into the water.
You may also hear an alligator before you see it, particularly during mating season in the late spring when the males are especially vocal.
If you are in the Florida Everglades or other alligator territory, only hike during daylight hours and swim in designated areas. Keep dogs away from the shores, as a gator might see your pet as a potential snack.
If an alligator does take an interest and begin to charge, your best course of action is to run away. The animals can move at a brisk 11mph, but not for long, and tend to zig-zag rather than running straight. For more advice, see our guide what to do if you see an alligator in Florida.