Scientists in Louisiana captured video of massive football-sized bugs devouring a dead alligator they placed on the ocean floor in the Gulf of Mexico earlier this year.
In February, scientists Craig McClain, Clifton Nunnally, and River Dixon dropped two alligators into the ocean in what they described as a "first-ever experiment on reptile falls."
The Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium researchers wanted to grab a first-hand glimpse into deep-sea food webs and what might have occurred millions of years ago when now-extinct reptiles fell to the bottom of the ocean.
The state of Louisiana donated the "humanely euthanized" alligators in the study, the researchers said.
The reptiles were weighted and taken "tens of miles" off the coast of Louisiana where they were dropped into the ocean where they sunk about 1 1/4 miles down, according to the video.
Within 24 hours, "giant deep-sea isopods" about the size of footballs started eating the alligator.
The isopods are related to roly-polies or pill bugs that are found on land.
"They're scavengers that eat dead animals," one of the researchers said in the video.
The pinkish colored isopods crawled over and inside the dead carcass while gorging themselves throughout the 6-minute video. They ate so quickly that they appeared to become "immobile or stupefied," the researchers noted.
One of the most surprising findings was how easily the isopods were able to eat through the tough hide of the dead alligator.
"Obviously, their pinching and crushing mandibles made easy work of the hide," the researcher said in the video.
These types of incidents are described as "food falls" and scientists believe alligators and crocodiles may be the last food source for some invertebrates that lived millions of years ago.
"Indeed, alligator and crocodile food falls may be the last remaining refuge of specialized invertebrates that were also in ancient oceans," according to the video.
First-ever deep-sea alligator food fall youtu.be
Alligator falls could be common in the ocean, according to the video. Hurricanes and other tropical storms are believed to carry the reptiles out to sea.
The scientists are planning to return to the site in a couple of months to see what other species the dead alligator might have attracted.