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Question Your World: Can Crocodiles Climb Trees?

Way back around the time of dinosaurs the first crocodiles started to appear. After millions of years of evolution they have become the intense hunters and frighteningly large reptiles that we know today. These animals are the alpha predators in some parts of the world, are stealthy hunters, some have the strength to bring down a small elephant, and they just got even scarier! One of the scariest questions in the world just got answered. That question? Can crocodiles climb trees? Listen to this Question Your World radio report produced by the Science Museum of Virginia to learn more.

In a recent study by zoologists at the University of Tennessee some pretty interesting information was collected from around the world. Crocodiles and some alligators in Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas have been spotted perched up on tree branches! These cold-blooded animals appear to be climbing up onto tree branches in mangrove patches to get some sun and warm up in the heat. These animals have also been observed surveying the area for potential threats and prey. Being up higher exposes them to other predators so the higher vantage point allows them to see what's coming and if it seems dangerous they can just roll off the branch and splash into the water below. At the same time, observing from up high gives them a good opportunity to track prey as well.

So, how high do these crocs actually climb? Pretty far up, actually. Some of these scaled reptiles have been seen up on branches that involve a 13 feet vertical crawl. There are a huge variety of crocodiles and alligators that span from the small to the incredibly large. A majority of these tree crawling tropical dwellers have been small, but make no mistake, the survey highlights some of the larger versions that have been spotted high top called trees and logs. The six foot plus Nile Crocodile was spotted sunning about five to six feet above the water in Africa. The tallest climber award thus far goes to the Central African slender-snouted crocs, attainting a 13 feet vertical climb before moving several feet across on a slanted branch.

This alone is fascinating, but then you factor in another behavior and we're starting to see a much different picture of these creatures. Crocodiles and alligators have also been observed using sticks as lure to trap prey. They burry themselves in a pile of sticks, wait for an animal to approach seeking sticks (birds and small mammals), then the beast strikes and nabs itself a lunch. This study allows us to understand that crocodiles and alligators are more clever than we have given them credit for in the past.

So, to recap, some of the largest and most intense land hunters have now been observed with the ability to climb trees and even use tools to trap prey. Forget about the phrase leaping lizards, we're dealing with climbing crocodiles! If you've ever wanted to use the word 'Crikey!', this would be a really good opportunity.

Article by: Prabir Mehta Science Museum of Virginia

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