A ‘badly decomposed’ body was found in a Florida lake on Thursday after stunned witnesses saw ten alligators eating it.
The gruesome discovery put a St. Petersburg resident and his partner off their breakfast at Lake Maggiore at around 8am, they told the Tampa Bay Times.
‘It was hard to tell if it was a person or an animal,’ Otis Crawford, 57, told the newspaper. ‘I got out of the car to make sure I was seeing what I was seeing.’
The alligators dragged the body from the mangroves and through the lake and began to consume it.
‘I saw an alligator take a chunk out of [the body], throw it up in the air and catch it and eat it,’ said Patricia Kays, 60.
‘I had to go back to the car after that. I couldn’t watch anymore.’
Crawford also told ABC Action News he saw the gators ‘chomping’ on the body.
He said he was glad he spotted the corpse, otherwise the reptiles might have pulled it into the bushes and ‘nobody would have ever known’.
The couple told a nearby city worker, who called the police.
The remains were so severely decomposed that officials were ‘unable to tell anything about it — gender or race or anything,’ St. Petersburg Police Spokesperson Yolanda Fernandez said.
‘It’s very, very hot and any body that is, unfortunately, in this heat and that’s been in the water for a while is going to suffer decomposition,’ she said.
The many alligators surrounding the corpse made retrieving it ‘a little more difficult,’ she said.
Several of the creatures scattered when St. Petersburg Fire Rescue used a small, red boat to bring the remains out from the southeast corner of the 380-acre lake.
Officials searching the shoreline could not find any other evidence, such as personal items, that might help authorities identify the person.
The investigation is ongoing while a medical examiner determines the person’s cause of death.
Fernandez said it is clear the death didn’t occur Thursday morning ‘due to the condition of the body’.
In a news release, police said: ‘There are signs of alligator involvement, although due to the condition of the body it’s too soon to know the cause of death.’
Fernandez said investigators could ‘not call it an alligator attack – simply that there were alligators around the body when we found it.’
It could be the case that the reptiles were merely scavenging.
Last week, a body was found in a canal in Florida’s south Polk County being eaten by an alligator, the Orlando Sentinel reported.
In that case, trappers caught the alligator and performed a necropsy to find a hand and foot of the victim, Michael Ford II, 45, of Wauchula, in the beast’s stomach.
In that case, the apparent cause of death was drowning, although the final cause is still unknown.
Summertime is mating season for alligators, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s website.
The creatures enjoy sunbathing on land during warm weather, which could cause them to come onto land more often during the summer.