Egret hitches a ride on swimming alligator's back at Florida park

Why fly when you can just hitch a ride?

That's exactly what one fearless great egret did at Gatorland in Orlando last month.

Video recorded by Tiffanie Eden shows the intrepid bird perched on an alligator's back as it swam along in an exhibit at the central Florida attraction and wildlife preserve on March 8.

The 110-acre park is home to thousands of alligators, crocodiles, and native birds, including the great egret.

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Great egrets are known for hitchhiking on gators, with multiple instances seen online of the pairing.

Researchers at the University of Florida say that, though birds and alligators may not seem to be the likeliest of friends, they appear to mutually benefit from one another in order to survive in the Sunshine State's wetlands. 

Wading birds, including the great egret, appear to actively choose to nest on tree limbs near alligators, who act as bodyguards by chasing -- and sometimes eating -- nest raiders such as possums and raccoons.

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The study's author, Lucas Nell, tells the Washington Post that the birds developed the strategy over time, despite the prospect of losing one or two of their own chicks per year as a result. 

"We have known for some time that ibises, storks, spoonbills and herons seem to always have alligators underneath their nests," said Peter Frederick, a professor in UF's department of wildlife ecology and conservation. "Alligators are serving as nest protectors – keeping raccoons out of the colony, which are otherwise devastating nest predators."