A glimpse of life in ancient oceans was captured on video by scientists who placed a dead alligator on the ocean floor in February to see what would happen next.
It didn’t take long to find out.
Within 24 hours, “giant” scavenging isopods the size of pink footballs were crawling atop the carcass like undersea roaches, according to the unsettling 6-minute video posted April 3 on YouTube. It has more than 200,000 views as of April 10.
The isopods -- which are distantly related to the roly poly, or pill bug -- gorged to the point of being “stupefied,” said the researchers.
Scientists Craig McClain and Clifton Nunnally of the Louisiana University Marine Consortium called the “first-ever” experiment a “peek into the past” that showed what might have happened millions of years ago when “long extinct large marine reptiles” fell to the ocean floor.
Such incidents are called “food falls,” and often occur when rivers transport food to the deep ocean, said the researchers.
“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.
The ”humanely euthanized” alligator (donated by the state of Louisiana) was weighted and sunk “tens of miles” off the coast of Louisiana in February, said the researchers.
It eventually hit bottom a mile and a quarter down, according to the video.
Researchers believe alligator falls may be common in the ocean, partly because the reptiles get carried miles out to sea by large storms and hurricanes.
Among the surprises in the study was the speed at which the isopods found the alligator (less than a day), and ease they had eating through the tough hide, said the researchers.
In fact, the crustaceans ate so fast that they became “immobile or stupefied,” the researchers noted.
The team said it intends to return to the site within two months to see what other species participated in consuming the alligator. It’s possible some new species may be discovered, the researchers said in the video.