Birds are using alligators to help protect their nests from other predators.
In the Everglades, it seems like something is always out to get you. The many species of birds including egrets, herons, ibises, and storks seem to be prime targets for many predators.
This is especially true when they begin to nest, as their offspring and eggs become ripe picking for predators. The birds managed to reach a stunning arrangement with local alligators to help solve this problem.
They have begun to build their nests in low hanging branches above alligators favorite lounging areas. In return for warding off potential danger from their menacing presence, the alligators eat any young that accidentally fall from above.
This crazy relationship was outlined in a study that was published to PLOS ONE. The lead researchers, Lucas Nell and Peter C. Frederick, from the University of Florida made the interesting discovery during a two year study.
It shows the first mutually beneficial relationship between nesting birds and crocodilians.
While the birds seem to understand what they are getting from the relationship, it is not something the alligators are actually aware off. They have just figured out an easy meal will eventually fall from above if they hang around long enough.
The researchers even stated that the alligators would still take out adult birds or even try to slam their tails into trees to try to get babies or eggs to fall.
They captured 40 female alligators and took blood samples to determine their body-mass index from various places around the Everglades. Some were captured near nesting sites with as many as 800 birds, while others were taken no closer than a half-mile away with no nesting areas.
The female alligators that fed from the fallen babies had better body conditioning and fat compared to other females away from the bird colonies.
This proves this relationship is turning into a critical food source for some alligators where good food sources are often hard to come by.
Nell and Frederick's findings are being looked into at other places that support wading birds and alligators worldwide to see if this relationship isn't just unique to the Everglades. It will be interesting to see what other areas may have this same weird relationship.