J.C. Nifong

Meet the "Crittercam."

The highly technical name for the device you see above is a "Crittercam," and it figured into a monitoring project that researchers conducted in the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, located a stone's throw away from Cape Canaveral, Florida. James Nifong of the University of Florida and other scientists strapped these kinds of rugged cameras onto 15 gators. Then they set the reptiles loose to see how they hunted prey when humans weren't in their business.

The voyeuristic treasure the researchers recovered marks a "major step forward in not only furthering the understanding of crocodilian interactions in natural ecosystems, but also in providing valuable insight regarding the feeding behavior of an ecologically important apex predator whose cryptic nature has historically hindered such research," they said in a study just published in PLOS ONE. Among their insights:

The video footage revealed that time of day significantly affected the frequency of attacks on prey, as well as the probability of capturing prey. Alligators most often attempted to capture prey during the night, but the researchers' calculated probability of successful capture was highest in the morning and sequentially lower during day, evening, and night, respectively. Position in the water – submerged versus at the surface – also significantly affected prey-capture success, with two-fold greater capture rate when submerged while attacking prey.

You can see some of the Crittercam footage in the below sequence of a gator snatching prey and working its jaws. The sweet marsh-rock soundtrack appears to have been added by a fan:

Top image: J.C. Nifong / University of Florida

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