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.