Does your day need a little bit of saurian cannibalism to spice it up? We’ll take a guess and say it probably does. Allow us, then, to deliver the following footage, which has a vaguely horror-movie vibe about it:

The footage first seems to show a dead, rotting alligator cruising backwards by its own supernatural volition, though the actual mechanism soon becomes apparent.

The video comes from Lake Apopka in Central Florida, where such sights as an alligator dragging around the upright, worse-for-wear corpse of an expired comrade provide a sort of wild counterweight to the more manicured scenes of the region’s amusement parks and golf-course greens. 

The footage was taken in July along Lake Apopka Wildlife Drive by Dawn Jawman. And, in fact, not long before, video of the same kind of situation – very alive gator towing very dead (bleached-to-white) gator by the tail – in the same area was posted to Facebook (with some pretty endearing commentary):

Most likely, given the “well-along” look of both the dead gators and the roughly comparable sizes of cannibal and cannibalised, these represent instances of intraspecific scavenging rather than predation. American alligators, like many other crocodilians, are certainly known for preying on their own kind – indeed, cannibalism may be an important source of mortality for juvenile gators – but there tends to be a significant size discrepancy involved.

Dr. Adam Rosenblatt, an ecologist at the University of North Florida who’s done extensive research on alligators as well as the related black caiman, told me by email that “it’s rare for large crocodilians to kill and cannibalise other similarly sized crocodilians. Usually it’s bigger animals eating much smaller animals.”

“The giveaway in these videos,” he pointed out, “is how bleached the dead gators’ skins are. If a gator’s skin changes colour like that it means it’s been dead for a while and sitting in the sun.”

Alligators are as happy to chomp down on dead meat as live meat – heck, maybe more happy, given the former is essentially a free buffet. “The bottom line is alligators always take advantage of an easy meal,” Rosenblatt said, “and it doesn’t get much easier than a large dead alligator. Scavenging is common in crocodilians, as is cannibalism, so the behaviours in the videos are not surprising.”

There’s a good chance most wild critters calling the American alligator’s Southeastern range home have ended up as gator food at one point or another, including as scavenged carrion. Alligators have even been recorded hauling sea-turtle carcasses from ocean beaches into freshwater wetlands, and clambering ashore to snatch dead feral pigs.

Of course, the same goes for many a crocodilian-prowled ecosystem. And if you think scavenging is a rather bland process compared to active predation, consider Nile crocs coming ashore to drive cheetahs off a fresh-killed impala or contesting an elephant carcass with some rather ungenerous lions, or the sight of a dozen-plus estuarine crocs attending to the giant feed of a beached humpback whale.

What goes around comes around, as they say, and crocodilians themselves are scavenged by plenty of critters besides their own kind – including members of some surprising scavenger guilds. American alligators figured into an interesting 2019 study on the potential significance of “reptile fall” (akin to whale fall) in the deep ocean: once surely a commonplace phenomenon, given the plethora of marine reptiles that used to live – and therefore kick the bucket – in Mesozoic days.

Inspired by the regular sight of alligators swimming in brackish coastal waters – even sometimes ocean surf – and cognisant of how many belly-up crocodilians around the world are likely washed out to sea, researchers dropped three gator carcasses to the floor of the Gulf of Mexico and monitored what showed up to scavenge.

Plenty of organisms seemed overjoyed to tuck into the seafloor reptile meat, including giant isopods, amphipods, and boneworms. And one of the three gator carcasses outright vanished, apparently moved and consumed by something hefty enough to drag the “gator fall,” plus its 20.4-kilogram anchor-weight and shackle, some distance and sever the connecting line. The researchers thus speculated that a large deepwater shark perhaps a sixgill or Greenland shark – may have taken care of Alligator Three’s speedy and complete disposal.