Giant isopods on the sea floor rip apart an alligator carcass!

Reader J. J. sent me a link to the fascinating video below along with the commentary below, which, along with the video, tells you all you need to know. I’ll add, though, that this euthanized gator was placed ten miles off the coast of Louisiana and 1.25 miles down on the sea bed. And I have the feeling that this study was motivated as much by simple curiosity than by the more arcane questions the scientists raise in their narration. You can almost imagine a Gary Larson cartoon with a couple of lab-coated nerds saying, “Hey, I wonder what would happen if we dumped this big alligator carcass on the bottom of the sea and watched it?”

Giant isopods are crustaceans that live in the deep sea and scavenge for food. And they are giant. As Wikipedia notes, “the adults generally are between 17 and 50 cm (6.7 and 19.7 in). One of the “supergiants”, B. giganteus, reaches a typical length between 19 and 36 cm (7.5 and 14.2 in), with a maximum weight and length around 1.7 kg (3.7 lb) and 76 cm (30 in), respectively.”  A 2.5-foot, four-pound isopod! I wonder if they would make good eating? They are, after all, crustaceans.

From J. J.:

I just came across this culinary video of giant isopods dining on a dead alligator. I don’t know if you’ve seen it: it’s dated April 5, 2019 on Youtube.  There’s informative narration from two of the scientists involved in the dropping-dead-alligators-into-the-sea-to-see-what-happens project. (The gators were donated from a project to save American alligators, and were humanely killed.)

The meal itself starts about 2 min. in. Grisly but fascinating. However, the video preface is interesting because it shows some crazy denizens of the sea floor that I’ve never seen before, even on WEIT (or missed them), which frequently posts about weird sea creatures — a red fish looks as if it has a propellor on one side, another fish that looks like it’s on stilts,

I’m glad that you had a good trip and showed us photos of your culinary adventures — much more civilized than the isopods eating the gator, but I’m sure their special dinner was just as delectable to them as your Dutch dinners were to you, …especially since they might not eat again for years​. I’d bet it was a 5-star meal to them — some gorged themselves so much that they dropped to the sea floor in surfeit.​



  1. Diana MacPherson
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 12:42 pm | Permalink

    Harvard has a bunch of these isopods pickled. I took copious pictures when I was there.

  2. yazikus
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 12:47 pm | Permalink

    I had been wanting to be buried in one of those fungi growing sacks – but this seems pretty amazing as well. When I’m gone, feed me to the isopods!

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 1:08 pm | Permalink

      Certainly, we need new ways to deal with dead bodies — more direct, complete, and rapid recycling. Sky burials in the US aren’t possible. Is this “mushroom burial suit” what you’re referring to

      If so, I could ‘dig’ that, but I’d demand that the spores be psilocybe.

      • yazikus
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

        That is the one! I’ll be happy to be cycled away by fungi or by isopod.

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 8:23 pm | Permalink

        ‘Sky burials’? I had imagined something involving a rocket and an explosive charge 🙂

        I just Googled, seems it’s really just a euphemistic name for dumping the body on a mountaintop, no ‘burial’ involved, and no more sky involved than going for a walk.

        I can’t fault the process – vultures gotta eat – but I would hate to come upon one slowly decomposing while going for a nice relaxing hike.


        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted April 13, 2019 at 10:59 pm | Permalink

          I think that the sky part of what’s translated into English as “sky burial” refers to the magnificent Griffon vultures (Gyps fulvus), with around 7′ wing-spans, that fly in for the meal. That said, at least for those of us who don’t know Tibetan, it’s eminently euphemistic.

          The grisliest part for me is that sometimes the bodies are chopped up by professionals before being given to the birds and elements.

          Grisly though it is, I’m drawn to the idea (i.e., in the abstract) because it constitutes virtually complete recycling; and, especially in this day and age, we must think about such things. However, in the abstract and in the flesh (literally and figuratively) are two different things, and I sure wouldn’t want to come across one in the flesh while on a hike in the Himalayas or anywhere else, either.

  3. Posted April 13, 2019 at 1:12 pm | Permalink

    (The gators were donated from a project to save American alligators, and were humanely killed.)

    An odd way to go about saving alligators.

    • CAS
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

      Alligator recovery has been a great success. When my dad was at the U. of Florida in Gainesville, they were rare, now they are everywhere. At this time, there as so many conflicts with humans that some population control is necessary.

      • Posted April 13, 2019 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

        Okay. It is now a project to control alligator populations rather than to save them. That makes sense. Usually when there is a project to save an animal it is because the animal is endangered so you don’t go around killing them and feeding them to the snails.

        • Posted April 13, 2019 at 7:40 pm | Permalink

          Sorry, isopods.

          • Diana MacPherson
            Posted April 13, 2019 at 8:15 pm | Permalink

            Isopods: “No worries. Happens all the time”.

            • Posted April 13, 2019 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

              I am trying to understand the limitation on the meaning of “isopod.”

              def: animal with legs in equal position and size.

              Are not we all isopods?

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

      According to Louisiana Wildlife & Fisheries – a gov. Dept., “Louisiana’s wild & farm alligator harvests currently exceed 300,000 animals annually, while the population level (based on aerial nest surveys) remains stable”

      • infiniteimprobabilit
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 8:25 pm | Permalink


        How nice. Gotta love these euphemisms.

        That’s a lot of handbags.


    • peepuk
      Posted April 15, 2019 at 12:52 pm | Permalink

      Alligators have their own euthanasia-programs for humans, so I don’t feel very bad about it.

      From an alligator-perspective it seems odd not to use humans as seafood, when we compare populations of humans (4.5 million) with alligator-numbers (2.3 million) in Louisiana.

      Gator-rights have a long way to go.

  4. Jenny Haniver
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Like PCC(E), I wondered if the critters might be toothsome since they’re crustaceans. I did a Google search and found this: “How would you like some grotesque sea bugs to eat?”

    The article suggests frying them. I wouldn’t mind trying some boiled and served with drawn butter and lemon. Or roasted with garlic like garlic crab.

    • loren russell
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

      They apparently have about 80% of their innard space devoted to fat storage [in good years]. If well-fed, the drawn butter may be superfluous. Whether well-fed or not, lots of crunch, but not much meat..

      • Diana MacPherson
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

        Yeah my thoughts too – crunchy & tasteless.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Someone asked me once if I thought they tasted like crab or lobster but I suspect they are pretty tasteless and that’s why we haven’t decided to eat them regularly.

      • Michael Fisher
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

        Looking at JH’s video above it’s a lot of prep work for very little meat [as Loren mentions]. The meat is like crab in taste, which is to say more or less without any taste other than the garlic, butter & condiments used. Most sea food seems like that to me – relying on the chef to give it distinct character beyond “salty” & “ozony”.

  5. Michael Fisher
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 2:47 pm | Permalink

    Ambitious bucket list item: How many of us have crawled inside our dinner?

  6. CAS
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Great isopods.

  7. Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    As I tell my students, it was these isopods along with hagfish, that fed upon Leonardo DiCaprio’s corpse at the end of the movie Titanic

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:08 pm | Permalink

      A pleasing thought. More marine disaster films required – thin out the luvvies.

    • Mark R.
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

      Talk about being eaten by the worms! We eat so many animals that are scavengers, what are the chances we’ve eaten something that was nourished by human flesh? Don’t think I want to google that.

  8. revelator60
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    Best YouTube comment: “I hope the alligator is alright after the experiment.”

    • Posted April 13, 2019 at 4:30 pm | Permalink

      As a freshman, I had invertebrate zoology practicals with a too old lady as assistant professor. She had to show us living planarians, but the day of the practical happened to be an official holiday. When we showed up next week, she displayed a jar with turbid water (no identifiable metazoan remains) and said in a sad voice, “Unfortunately, they have already began dying”.

  9. Posted April 13, 2019 at 5:37 pm | Permalink

    I can’t remember the source now, but read long ago that when Europeans first immigrated to this continent, crustaceans were so huge and so plentiful that they were considered “poor people’s food”. This was also a time when Bison roamed most of the continent, not just the plains. Probably, there were more and bigger alligators also.

    • Posted April 13, 2019 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

      True. Lobster was food for paupers. Indentured servants would have it written into their contracts that they would not be fed lobster more than twice a week.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted April 13, 2019 at 6:01 pm | Permalink

        Reminds us of the stories about servant girls in many coastal European cities: they would not get salmon more than once a week.

        • Posted April 13, 2019 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

          How things have changed. Now I can’t *afford* to eat salmon more than once a week, maybe longer.

    • Diana MacPherson
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 5:50 pm | Permalink

      Yeah they are bottom feeders and considered poor people food. My dad said that was the case when he was a boy in the maritime in Canada in the 40s and 50s.

  10. Nicolaas Stempels
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 7:15 pm | Permalink

    “the dropping-dead-alligators-into-the-sea-to-see-what-happens project.” I think these guys are deliberately going for an Ignoble prize

  11. Joe Dickinson
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 9:14 pm | Permalink

    I could not find any absolute size scale to determine just how “giant” those isopods are. That alligator could be anywhere from a one foot baby to a twenty foot monster. Please give us some scale.

    • Michael Fisher
      Posted April 13, 2019 at 9:54 pm | Permalink

      Press release says these pink pillbugs [related to woodlouse] are the size of footballs – an American football football is around 11″ [28 cm] long. According to the GIANT ISOPOD Wiki there are around 20 species & they are a good example of deep-sea gigantism. Genus Bathynomus can be divided into “giant” species where adults are 8 to 15 cm & “supergiant” species where the adults are 17 to 50 cm.

      • Posted April 13, 2019 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

        A typical alligator is 12-13 feet long, so you can see that.

      • Nicolaas Stempels
        Posted April 14, 2019 at 7:10 am | Permalink

        ‘Deep-sea gigantism’, that must be related to ‘Island gigantism’ -and Island dwarfism’, for that matter.
        I was always fascinated by this: Giant tortoises, giant flightless doves, giant rats, lagomorphs, otters and birds, diminutive mammoths and hippos, I think there is a lot to be still discovered about the mechanisms there.

  12. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted April 13, 2019 at 9:20 pm | Permalink


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