The alligator, which had been at the zoo since 1965 and died in May at the age of 54, is believed to have eaten the coins over the years. Visitors typically throw coins into the alligator pond for good luck. An autopsy revealed that the alligator did not experience any kind of organ failure as a result of the swallowed coins.
According to the Japan Times, the alligator was only viewable through a glass screen for the first 20 years of its life in the zoo. However, visitors had been able to view the alligator without the barrier since 1989.
The reptile may have swallowed the coins together with pebbles, as alligators typically store pebbles in their stomachs, possibly to help with digestion.
According to the University of California Museum of Paleontology, many animals, including birds and reptiles, swallow small stones that are referred to as gastroliths, although their function is not entirely understood.
“For a long time, scientists have assumed that swimming animals swallow rocks to help control their buoyancy. For example, many crocodilians like to float in the water with just their eyes and nostrils showing so they can ambush their prey. A stomach full of rocks might help them keep their bodies under the water and out of sight. Many seals and whales dive deep in the ocean to feed, and the gastroliths might help them dive deeper,” the Museum of Paleontology explains.
However, further study has cast doubt on that hypothesis, with researchers now assuming that gastroliths help stabilize crocodiles bodies in water “so they have less of a tendency to roll from side to side.”