Scientists have known for a long time that alligators swallowed rocks, but they assumed that, like birds, the rocks were eaten to help them digest large meals. It was even thought possible that the rocks were swallowed accidentally when the alligator scooped up prey. But recently researchers had a suspicion that these reptiles where gulping stones for another surprising reason. Alligators spend much of their time underwater hunting for prey and hiding from potential predators, and the longer they can spend underwater the higher their chance of survival. The researchers hypothesized that eating rocks helped the alligators stay underwater for longer periods of time. To test their theory, they put 7 young alligators in a lab and studied the length of time they spent submerged during their dives before and after voluntarily eating a set of rocks. The rocks seemed to make a surprisingly large difference, increasing the gators’ time underwater by an average of 88%! It seems the more rocks the alligator eats the more air it can take into its lungs and still remain submerged, allowing it to stay safe and hidden for longer. That’s a pretty cool trick, but please don’t try this at home!
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Feb. 15, 2019