The Truth About “True Blood’s” Marshmallow-Eating Gators

Do alligators really eat marshmallows? We had to find out after watching True Blood.

For the uninitiated, True Blood is an HBO television series wherein vampires coexist with humans in a town called Bon Temps, La. In Sunday’s episode, Tommy kills his parents and, with the help of his brother Sam, disposes of them in the river. When the bodies float, Sam summons alligators by employing the one thing that they are evidently unable to resist—marshmallows.

Curious, we rang up Captain Jack Sessions of Honey Island Swamp Tours in Slidell, La., whose website mentions tour guides using marshmallows to reward alligators that come close. We also spoke to Michael Delany, a research biologist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission in Gainesville, Fla.

Captain Jack, we were watching True Blood and one of the characters baited up alligators with marshmallows. Do alligators like marshmallows?

Sessions: Yeah they do. No doubt about that. That’s a true story there. I go out and call them, bup bup bup bup bup bup–a mating call, you know. And sometimes, when they start coming, you toss them a marshmallow. Then they hang around and we give them a hot dog or two on a stick.

So you just go out into the middle of the swamp and start chucking marshmallows out into the water?

Sessions: No, they know we’re coming. When we get out there they kind of greet us. They know who we are. They’re creatures of habit. They pretty much sort us out and they know who to deal with when they come in. They’re smart.

Did you come up with the idea of baiting alligators this way?

Sessions: Oh, no—that’s been around for years and years and years. I don’t know if someone was camping and decided to throw a marshmallow at one. I don’t know how it came about, but honestly, it’s working.

And now for the science:

Dr. Delany, Have you ever heard of people feeding marshmallows to alligators?

Dr. Michael Delany: I have heard of people feeding marshmallows to alligators, although feeding alligators is against the law.

Is there something special about marshmallows that alligators just can’t get enough of?

Delany: No. No. Not at all. It’s usually that alligators have grown accustomed to being around people and maybe accustomed to being fed. A person then throwing anything into the water the alligator will then associate it with food regardless of what it is.

So it’s not the sugar, or the smell?

Delany: No. I’m looking at a display board here in my office that has representative samples of some of the things I’ve found in alligators’ stomachs. It includes spark plugs, cans, dog tags, bottles, fish of course, rocks, wood, shotgun shells, glass, things like that. They are not picky eaters. In Orange Lake (near Gainesville), between 250 and 300 juvenile alligators—six to seven percent of that population—are cannibalized by larger alligators each year. They will respond to and eat anything. There’s nothing special about marshmallows.

Do you watch True Blood? That’s where we got this idea.

Delany: No. I don’t get HBO. I’m a state employee. I can’t afford it (laughs). But [rather than marshmallows] they would have been better off putting rotten fish or rotten chicken around them.
-Rhett Register

  • BB

    I like “The Season Of The Witch” It is almost a good as season one. Allen Ball must be writing more of the episodes this season. My only (small) complaint is that there are to many story lines, but AB did this with “Six Feet Under” just like he is doing to True Blood. I will hate it when the last season of TB comes around, but if Allen Ball writes an ending anything like he did for the last 15 minutes of “6ft Under” It will be fantastic.

  • […] National Geographic followed up on a question many of us had after last week’s ep, “Do alligators really like marshmallows?” […]

  • Ima Ryma

    I’m just a gator getting by,
    Eating whatever happens to
    Come my way and catch my good eye.
    I watch humans for things to chew.
    They’ll toss just about anything
    To entice me to come up close.
    Sometimes marshmallows they will bring,
    Thinking I’m into goo glucose.
    Humans they are a goofy bunch,
    But they provide a lot of laughs,
    And once in a while a good lunch.
    They’re more useful than, say, giraffes.

    Toss some marshmallows – that’s okay,
    But I’ll take your hand any day.

  • […] “Do alligators really eat marshmallows?” is the #1 question on everyone’s mind after every episode of True Blood. Guess what the answer is! You have a 50/50 shot. -National Geographic […]

  • Eileen

    My brother use to work on a golf course in Florida and would feed the gators in the ponds marshmallows all the time. Made for some funny looks on the golfer’s faces when they snapped up the golf balls if they got to close to the water.

  • Lisa

    really enjoyed that poem re: gators–my husband is a gator from University of Florida and remembers the time when the FSU Seminoles killed the University of Florida’s mascot, Albert the alligator, and this sparked such a controversy—happened in mid 60’s

  • […] wall mural too. We thought that this library marriage proposal was pretty adorable. We discovered the truth about alligators and marshmallows. We read an interesting spoiler about the upcoming season of The Office. We got a progress report […]

  • Paul McDowell

    I recall feeding alligators marshmallows at the U of Florida campus in 1970 or 1971. They would come quite close, so close, I was surprised someone wasn’t reported missing.

  • Elizabeth

    When I went to the bayou they told us a few things. 1 it is illegal to feed the alligators. 2 it is not illegal to feed the fishes. 3 because the marshmallows float sometimes the alligators get them first. So, in essence, people do it because it works.

  • […] the truth about marshmallows and aligators […]

  • John W Hargis Sr

    I think this would be a good storyline for Ghostbusters 4 or later. Staypuft returns and as US Gov refuses to return nuclear arsenal, they call up the legendary NYC sewer alligator to save the day;-)=

  • Morgan

    Im a state employee. I can’t afford HBO….quite the opposite.

  • […] “True Blood” gesehen hat, weiß, dass man Alligatoren mit Marshmallows anlockt. Sobald ein weißer Klumpen im Wasser schwimmt, kommen die Tiere aus ihren Verstecken. Danach muss […]

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