This post comes at the request of my mum, who said “write about crocodiles and maybe I’ll like them!” And with the crocodile being one of Earth’s oldest creatures, I was more than happy to oblige.
I’m Australian, which means I grew up watching Steve Irwin and worrying I’d see a crocodile in any body of water. I’ve never run into one in the wild before, but I have seen a few in zoos and held a baby one as a kid!
These massive reptiles have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and haven’t evolved much since. In the Jurassic period, they came in a variety of species including those that ate plants, ran, and lived solely in water. The crocodile might seem like a simple creature, but it has a flexible lifestyle that has allowed it to outlive its prehistoric relatives like pterosaurs and other winged reptiles.
The crocodiles that survived the catastrophic meteor and survived into the modern age were very versatile. Their ability to thrive in and out of water meant that survival was easier for them than most. But the biggest factor in their longevity was the fact that they have a cerebral cortex, something only mammals and a few select reptiles possess. The cerebral cortex is vital for memory, perception, and recognising patterns. This means that crocodiles are a lot more intelligent than we give them credit for. Afterall, it’s not easy to be an apex predator.
Crocodiles rose through the food chain by having advanced senses compared to their competition. Their eyes, ears, and nostrils are at the top of the head, so they can float near the surface of the water and scope out prey while still remaining hidden. As nocturnal hunters, they have great night vision and their sense of smell and hearing are excellent.
A crocodile’s jaws are lined with tiny black sensors, which can detect the slightest disturbance in the water. This gives them a very good advantage when hunting.
Their bite is their most impressive feature. The crocodile has a bite force stronger than any other recorded animal, using a muscle that is almost as hard as bone. While they have incredible force them biting down, the muscle to open the jaw is surprisingly weak. Vets and other animal workers use simple tape to subdue them. Even a crab can hold a crocodile’s jaw shut! I found that fact so fun that I drew a picture of it, which you can buy on RedBubble!
Crocodile teeth are not equipped for tearing off chunks of flesh, like other predators. Instead, they use their bite force to clamp onto prey, keeping them from escaping, then engaging in the “death roll”. The death roll is basically the crocodile’s signature move, where it spins around so violently underwater that the prey becomes disoriented. This can cause the prey to drown, or snap their neck from the motion. They also use this death roll to assert dominance over other crocodiles.
Crocodiles are actually the most social of reptiles. They don’t form groups necessarily, but they aren’t overly territorial and will put up with each other quite peacefully. Crocodiles are also the most vocal reptiles! Babies make an adorable peeping sound, and adults make a variety of noises including bellows, hisses, and screeches.
Baby crocs break through their eggs with a “milk tooth” made from their skin. Then, their mother piles them into her mouth to safely deliver them to the water, as hatchlings are easy prey for birds. A crocodile mother is very protective of her young, and will guard them for months.
Before this post gets too long, I wanted to add a few things to wrap this up!
It’s hard to know how long crocodiles live, but scientists use growth rings in their teeth to predict that they can live around 60-70 years.
Crocodile meat is eaten in Australia. It’s not very common in most states and I’ve only tried it once on a school camp. But crocodile farms are big in the warmer parts of the country!
Crocodiles appear in many mythologies, but my favourite is the Egyptian goddess Ammut. She is a funerary deity with the head of a crocodile, the forelegs of a lion, and the back legs of a hippo. In the Ancient Egyptian afterlife, your heart was weighed against a feather on a scale. If the heart was impure and outweighed the feather, Ammut would eat it and doom the soul to wander eternally. Ammut embodied everything the Ancient Egyptians feared, being a combination of their three deadliest animals.
I’m sure I’ll talk about hippos soon, but you should know they’re so dangerous that crocodiles will let the babies lick salt off of them, because they know an angry mumma hippo is watching. Crocodiles may be apex predators, but even they know not to mess with a hippopotamus.