No one likes to think of crocodiles and their cousin—the alligator, as being “spectacularly agile,” but that’s how they’re being described now after a new study revealed some previously unknown behavior from these large and sometimes deadly creatures. As it turns out, numerous species of alligators and crocodiles can climb all the way up the crown section of trees. They can also use tools and perform surveillance on their prey. The study was done at the University of Tennessee.
Non-scientists may never think about an alligator as being able to climb a tree, and the thought of an alligator dropping out of a tree onto a person’s head for a midday snack is beyond terrifying, but the reality is, these animals have mad skills when it comes to hunting, and climbing to the crown level of trees is one of those skills. While researchers stopped short of saying that alligators have evolved to learn climbing behavior (if they had, what would they learn to do next—the tango?); scientists did say that climbing trees allows the crocodiles to do “improved site surveillance of potential threats and prey.” They also said that other researchers should start looking for fossil changes that could give clues as to how and when this behavior began occurring.
In addition to climbing to the crown level of trees to perform improved surveillance, crocodiles and alligators also use tools. That’s right—they use sticks for numerous purposes. The twigs and sticks are used to hide and disguise themselves so they can go incognito while hunting, and they are also used to mimic nesting supplies that birds may need. When the bird lands on the croc, the bird shortly meets the great hereafter and the croc basks in the sun with a full tummy.
The behavior has been observed on three continents: Australia, North America and Africa. At least four separate species of crocodiles and alligators have been known to engage in this behavior. Interestingly, and, perhaps, beneficially to humans, the larger crocodiles in the study were not observed climbing to the highest point on the trees. The smaller the animal was, the higher it was able to climb.
Most people don’t want to entertain the thought of crocodiles being able to climb vertically; in fact, some would say that idea is downright horrifying, but study researchers gleefully announced that climbing a tree branch is no different for the croc than climbing a steep hill as long as “the branch is wide enough to walk on.”
As nerve-wracking as it is to ponder on crocodiles lurking around in the trees to perform surveillance on their prey, there is also a benign reason for their behavior. They climb the trees to not only stalk prey but also to regulate their body temperature.
Still, no one ought to mistake this innocent reason for tree climbing as some kind of altruism on the crocodile’s part—they kill thousands of people each year. The knowledge that they climb trees, use tools and do surveillance may be thrilling to researchers, but it’s rather disconcerting to the common person. To steer clear of a crocodile attack, the savvy explorer will always stay a minimum of 15 feet away from the animal or its habitat.
By: Rebecca Savastio