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Video: If You've Never Ridden an Alligator, Here's What You're Missing

Until now, if you wanted to figure out how a crocodile or alligator hunted, you had to get up close and personal with the dangerous reptiles. But thanks to a bit of technology, researchers can now keep a safe distance. A team of scientists captured 15 alligators on an island off the coast of Florida and strapped a large-shoebox-sized package containing a waterproof camera and other data sensors to each animal's back. The cameras were programmed to take video documenting the reptiles’ attempts to catch prey (as seen in video), and then the strap would detach after 1 to 2 days. Researchers had known that alligators are active at night, but they assumed that hunting occurred most often in the morning. This study showed that while morning hunting attempts were more likely to be successful, alligators actually do most of their hunting at night, the researchers report today in PLOS ONE. The reptiles also made many of their successful kills while completely underwater, a fact that had been missed by observational studies. Although alligators are the top predator in their environments, how much they eat and when they hunt has been poorly understood until now. The results change the picture of known alligator behavior in ways that could affect conservation: For example, the researchers' data show that alligator counts, done at night by shining a light and looking for the telltale red reflections from their eyes, occur during a time when half the alligators may be below the surface, unseen.