As an experiment to assess the reaction of deep-sea creatures, a group of scientists dropped three dead alligators to the ocean floor.
The team was surprised to find that the underwater residents were keen to start eating within a few hours and were excited to discover a new species of deepwater worm.
At present organisms living on the sea bed often struggle to find sources of food. The scientists knew that dead American Alligators who may be carried out to sea by storms could be turned into a good source of nutrition for the benthos living below.
In the depths that these creatures live there is no light, so a lack of photosynthesis means a complete lack of phytoplankton.
These creatures must, therefore, look to alternative ways of feeding themselves including eating what scientists have named 'marine snow' which contains bits of dead animals, feces and other bits and pieces that find their way down from the ocean layers above.
Previous research looked at other ways of feeding these deep-sea creatures including whales, plants, and wood and this latest study were designed to build on that body of work by using alligator carcasses.
The scientists dropped the three carcasses on the northern Gulf of Mexico, placing them1.24 miles beneath the surface on the continental slope.
They originally assumed that the thick skin would stop scavengers from reaching the soft tissue inside, however, within just 43 hours the organisms had started to eat the first alligator which weighed in at 65 pounds.
Another alligator that weighed 42.9 pounds was totally eaten in 51 days.
Among the creatures found feasting on the alligator remains were Macrouridae, a type of fish, an amphipod (crustacean) and giant isopods.
The most exciting discovery for the team was a bone-eating worm – these worms were discovered in a sediment that had formed on the bones and were found to be part of the Osedax genus.
These worms feed on fat within the bones but have never before been seen on dead alligators or in the Gulf of Mexico.
The new worm has yet to be named and in the meantime, the team is looking to conduct more tests on this worm to see if it will eat species other than reptiles.
The third alligator went missing after just 8 days and, because of the size and weight of the carcass and marks on the sea bed, the team has established that it was likely taken by sharks, in all probability the larger Greenland shark that lives in the area.
The study showed that in the deep-sea areas where food is limited large food parcels are eaten quickly and has added significant data to the current research by providing additional information regarding a competition for food.
In the deep-sea, specifically larger food parcels are often spread around various species rather than being consumed by single individual inhabitants on the seafloor.