In the Belly of the Beast

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December 30, 2013
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You know what most birds, fish and animals love to eat, and as hunters and wildlife conservationists you often provide them with many of their favorite foods plus other morsels enhanced by the sweet scents and tastes of apples, cinnamon, garlic and other additives.

Have you ever stopped to realize that many wildlife would just as soon grab a mouthful of bicycle parts, shoes, or even yourself if given the chance?

Feast or Famine? No, in the real world of many animals, birds and fish it is more about Beast and Feast. Yes, wildlife will first eat what they like best, just like people. However, if given the opportunity, the instincts of many wildlife species to survive and remain at the top of their food chain sometimes leads them to chomp down on some things that have little to do with taste.

Although these accounts may be appalling and on the grotesque side to some people, they are not intended to be offensive. Some of these accounts are odd in nature and perhaps humorous while those involving humans and animals may not be pleasant to absorb. However, all accounts are just a part of nature. Animals eat some things for food, they eat some things for protection, and they will eat some things simply out of their instincts as wild creatures.

Bicycle parts, tires, nails, basketballs, tin cans, baby pacifiers, engagement rings, pocket change? Yes, they all have been found in the stomachs of wildlife, but so has the feet, arms and legs and other remains of humans, horses, bears, caribou, octopus and other animals as large as, and including elephants.

Among the most dangerous predators to humans and large animals have been sharks, crocodiles and pythons. They often prey without discrimination.

Indeed, wildlife eats other wildlife and often even those of their own species. I and many other anglers have experienced the sight of a largemouth bass attempting to ingest a smaller largemouth bass, usually head-first, and I even have seen a small bull snake attempting to swallow his own tail section.

Many of us also have seen bullfrogs attempting to eat other bullfrogs, striped bass attempting to eat their cousin, the white bass, and catfish eating another catfish. Their theory seems to mean that “if it moves, it’s mine to eat.”

On this smaller scale, freshwater and saltwater fish often will strike and swallow just about anything that moves or shines. That’s why they often don’t hesitate to strike objects thrown from a boat or dropped overboard. There are records of fishing reel parts, dog collars, crushed beer and soda cans, rings, car keys, rubber gloves and, at least in one case at a Washington State lake, a $5 bill, that have been removed from the stomachs of pike, trout, largemouth bass, lemon fish and halibut.

In another recent report, a woman who was cleaning a 12-inch baby shark as part of her dinner discovered the shark had swallowed a strange-looking medallion which turned out to date back to the 12th century when Portuguese soldiers of that country wore the medallions as a sort of divine protection while they were pillaging “lesser civilizations.”

Fish swallowing shiny moving objects should come as no big surprise. After all, anglers have known that fact for decades if not centuries and have used it to create such things as spinnerbaits, buzz baits, slabs, spoons and other flashy lures to catch fish.

However, many objects found in game fish continue to puzzle biologists and anglers.

Prior to his passing, our beloved, former Texas Fish & Game Editor Don Zaidle mentioned a redfish with a 23-inch garter snake, a smallmouth bass that had swallowed a water moccasin and a coyote that had swallowed a condom, plus TF&G Facebook fan Ruben Paez, Jr., reported he had caught a spotted sea trout at Port Mansfield that had a chicken bone in its belly.

Earlier this year, a 19-inch rainbow trout caught in the Kanektok River, Alaska, was discovered to have 20 shrews inside its stomach, prompting many to wonder just how a rainbow trout could catch and eat that many of the small land-dwelling rodents at one time.

A whitetail deer hunter once reported finding rusty nails inside a buck’s stomach, and saltwater anglers have found shotgun wads, parts of plastic bottles, jig heads and even pebbles in the stomachs of redfish.

Strange incidents, indeed, but it is the larger animals and reptiles that add flavor and suspense to many people’s accounts of unusual appetites.

One of the most recent interesting finds on a Hawaii beach was a 14-foot long dolphin called a false killer whale that had in its stomach numerous hooks, the partial remains of a large marlin, a tuna, and several species of squid.

On the more serious side, one of the most horrific recent incidents involved a black bear. It occurred at George Lake, Alaska, where officials found the remains of Robert Weaver, 64, who had been mauled at his cabin. The partial contents inside a black bear later shot by an Alaskan trooper were identified as those of Weaver. The death was only the fourth fatality by a black bear in the past 61 years in Alaska.

are known
to injest all
sorts of man-made objects, not to
mention actual
parts of man
himself. Photo: Wikimedia commons

In another report, the Gulf Coast Research Laboratory is said to have autopsied a shark that had a seven-foot long dolphin in its stomach, but the “find of the decade” for American anglers had to go to Nolan Calvin, a Washington State angler who found a human finger in the stomach of a lake trout he had caught at Priest Lake in September, 2012.

Calvin turned the finger over to authorities who, through fingerprints from it, linked the finger to 31-year-old Hans Glassig, a Cobert, Wash., wakeboarder who told authorities he had lost all four fingers from his hand after it had become tangled in a tow-line while he was wakeboarding.

In the Florida Everglades, officials recently captured and killed a nine-foot long python that had a full-grown carcass of a deer in its stomach. Other pythons there have been found with hogs, dogs, and deer in their stomachs. One python was found trying to swallow a smaller python.

In South Africa, a game warden was notified by a hunter that another man had been attacked by a crocodile. The game warden found the giant croc, shot it, and the resulting autopsy not only turned up the crocodile hunter’s friend but the corpses of three other humans lying beside it inside the reptile.

The stomachs of bull sharks have turned up remains of human feet, arms and legs, parts of a hippopotamus, dolphins, and parts of a human skull. White sharks’ stomachs have revealed smaller sharks, parts of an elephant, hind quarters of a horse and parts of other animals, while the jaws of a young polar bear were found inside a tiger shark.

On the lighter side, these same sharks have been found to swallow automobile license plates, people’s shoes, tennis balls, cameras, batteries, pliers, and flashlights, just another reminder that not all wildlife eat simply to satisfy their appetites. They eat because they are wild life.


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