Crocodilians: Even More Awesomer Than You Think
Crocodilians are more skilled hunters than you may have thought. New research describes sophisticated hunters working in groups and employing sophisticated techniques requiring collaboration to bring down their prey.
I’ve got a new-found mad respect for crocodilians (crocodiles, alligators, gharials, and caimans) after researching this news-item. I’m not saying I love them as much as bacteria and archaea but they are damn impressive nonetheless.
First of all, they really are super reptiles in every sense of that word. Here’s a few reasons why:
- They have barely changed in 80 million years outlasting the dinosaurs and laughing at that rock that hit the earth a while back.
- They are covered all over not in skin but what is essentially armor. These protective plates can actually have bone in them to make them extra tough.
- Their jaws are legendary. Their bite strength is the largest ever measured directly for a living animal. They can crush almost anything that gets in there including bone and even cast iron. You want numbers? How about 3,700 pounds per square inch (16,460 newtons). That may even be more than a T-rex. Lions and tigers can only muster 27% of that number. Humans? only a paltry 4%. It’s no wonder they’ve been seen killing even sharks and big cats. Sure they have a very weak opening strength and can be held shut by rubber bands but how many prey animals carry rubber bands with them.
- Crocs can survive injuries that would piss off even a zombie; easily surviving a torn off limb or tail.
- Their stomach acids are the strongest of all vertebrates. They can digest bones, horns, feathers, shells…It’s a wonder they don’t digest themselves.
- They won’t like it but if they have to, they can survive a whole year or longer without food. Even when food is plentiful they typically eat only 50 meals a year. Shit, you do that in 17 days.
- A crocodilian brain is the most complex of any reptile. Their smarts make them difficult to catch. Researchers claim that once you catch a Croc, it’s more difficult to catch them a second time using the same method.
It’s no wonder these guys are the most successful freshwater predators. But they have even more tricks up their armored sleeves according to researchers at the University of Tennessee. They logged over 3,000 hours of their own observations plus they added to that scientific diaries from other researchers and to top it off they even used social media accounts written by other researchers, amateur naturalists, and non-scientists. This motley collection of sources revealed patterns of behavior not noticed before or taken seriously but taken as a whole have become more compelling.
They revealed that crocodilians are not the solitary relatively unsophisticated hunters as commonly perceived. They hunt in groups using techniques that seem to require forethought and sophisticated communication. Even researchers who have long known about their cooperative hunting skills are probably impressed with the extent of this cooperation.
Examples of this behavior include multiple crocodiles swimming around a school of fish in an ever-tightening circle until the fish were essentially a tight ball of snacks. The crocs would then take turns diving through the center of the ball for a mouth full of them. At other times, larger crocodiles would drive fish from deep water into shallow water where smaller more agile ones could ambush them and chase them down. In one case, a salt-water crocodile chased a pig off a trail into a lagoon where two small crocs were waiting in ambush.
These observations and others suggest that crocodilians don’t merely hunt with each other in a cooperative way as had been believed. Their behavior suggests a level beyond that, requiring coordination and collaboration bespeaking a complexity not fully appreciated until now. Such complex behavior has been seen before in these animals when it came to parental care and group social interactions. They are in fact the most social of reptiles forming long term relationships involving communication utilizing not only vocalization and postures but also touch and chemical signals. Seeing similar behavior while hunting kinda makes sense to me when you consider this gestalt.
p.s. I know “More Awesomer” is grammatically incorrect