Crocodiles, some of the fiercest creatures in the world, according to scientists, also like to play around with balls and give each other piggyback rides. It turns out that humans may have more shared interests with crocodiles than scientists thought before . Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee – Knoxville (UT), stated that crocodiles enjoy playing with balls, surfing waves, doing and giving piggyback rides, and even like the sight of pink flowers.
Dinets has been studying crocodiles and examining their behavior for decades, especially their play-like behavior. To obtain more data about the recreational activities of crocodiles, he conducted a survey of crocodilian-themed groups on social media and in numerous conferences. His results displayed a laxer, softer side of the ferocious reptiles, a side that lets them romp around in the water with otters and people. He explained that his results could shed light on the evolution of intelligence.
His research found that crocodiles participate in all three main categories of play, analyzed by behavior specialists: social play, play with objects, and locomotor play. The type of play reported most frequently is play with objects. Crocodiles have been observed playing with noisy ceramic pieces, wooden balls, streams of water, and debris floating around them. Instances of locomotor play include younger crocodiles continuously sliding down embankments, riding small currents of water, and surfing small waves created in rivers and pools. Witnessed cases regarding social play are older crocodiles giving piggyback rides to the baby reptiles, adult ones courting each other, and a male alligator that gave his lifetime partner a ride through the pool, on his back.
Crocodiles have also been witnessed engaging in play with other animals. Dinets said he observed and studied a young alligator playing with an otter. He said that some crocodiles have been known to become so emotionally attached to people, they become friends and playmates for years. One man was reported to have saved one that was brutally injured from a gunshot to the head. Afterwards, they became playmates for over 20 years, up until the death of the reptile.
Dinets’ research furthers the work of his colleague, Gordon Burghardt, professor in the Department of Psychology at UT, whose studies define “play” in a way that allows scientists to locate its characteristics in an individual species that were previously thought to have not engaged in play. The work Dinets has completed provides further, more inclusive evidence that play is a universal characteristic of intelligent species, those with multifaceted behavior tendencies. He stated this may help evolutionary biologists better understand how intelligence evolved and in what environment it is most capable.
There are hundreds of thousands of crocodiles being held captive in zoos and breeding centers, providing for their protection against becoming endangered. Dinets explained that by giving the crocodiles things with which they can play and more opportunities to engage in social interaction with other animals, the happier and heathier they will be. In the end, researchers say that crocodiles are not just ferocious, man-eating monsters of the rivers of the world, they have a softer side, a side that includes playing and piggyback rides.
By: Alex Lemieux
Picture: Claire Davis – Flickr License