Tree Climbing and Basking Behavior Noticed in Crocodilian Species

First Posted: Feb 11, 2014 04:24 AM EST

Some crocodile species are smarter than previously thought. When being chased by this sluggish creature people either try to distract them or take refuge by climbing a tree. But it seems climbing a tree can prove risky as these species can climb trees too.

Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, found that both crocodiles and alligators can climb trees and reach up to the crown.

This study thoroughly examined the tree climbing and basking behavior of the reptiles. The study was led by Valdimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology.

The findings were based on observations of crocodile species in three different continents namely Australia, Africa and North America. Apart from this, they analyzed studies conducted earlier and the anecdotal observations made.

The researchers noticed that four species of crocodiles were able to climb trees. The smaller crocodilians out beat the larger ones and could climb higher and further whereas the larger ones struggled a little due to their size. The species were seen climbing as far as four meters high in a tree and five meters down a branch.

They were seen hanging on reeds like chameleons. The juvenile crocodiles were seen basking in mangrove trees  

"Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on," the authors wrote. "Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles' spectacular agility on land."

These tree climbing crocodiles were skittish on being approached and would jump into the water the moment they noticed any observer.

The researchers assume that the crocodiles climb trees and bask atop the tree crown for habitat scrutiny and thermoregulation.

"The most frequent observations of tree-basking were in areas where there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature," the authors wrote. "Likewise, their wary nature suggests that climbing leads to improved site surveillance of potential threats and prey."

This study offers evidence that a few crocodile species can climb trees despite having limbs that are not suited for this task. It will help paleontologists, especially those studying extinct crocodiles or other Archosaurian taxa, to focus on changes in fossils.

In a previous study, Dinet found that crocodiles use lures to catch their prey. These clever reptiles use small sticks or twigs that they place across their snouts to fool the birds. The moment a bird approaches the crocodile; it lunges and grabs the bird between its jaws.

The finding was published in the journal Herpetology Notes.

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