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Crocodiles Like to Play Ball and Surf Waves

First Posted: Feb 11, 2015 10:55 AM EST

Most people know that animals like to play. Cats, dogs and even birds engage in some form of play with each other or just by themselves. But did you know that crocodiles also play? Scientists have found that these reptiles enjoy surfing waves, playing ball and going on piggyback rides.

Vladimir Dinets, one of the researchers, has studied crocodiles for a decade. During this time, he often saw crocodiles engaging in play-like behavior. That's why he decided to conduct an informal survey of crocodilian-themed groups on social media and various conferences to see whether this was common.

In this case, the scientists found that crocodilians engage in all three main types of play distinguished by behavior specialists. These include locomotor play, play with objects and social play. Play with objects was reported most often; crocodiles have been seen playing with wooden balls, noisy ceramic bits, streams of water, their prey and debris floating in the water. Locomotor play included young alligators repeatedly sliding down slopes and crocodiles surfing ocean waves. Social play included baby alligators riding their older friends' backs, and baby caimans playfully "courting" each other.

That's not all the researchers found. Crocodiles have also been spotted playing with other animals. Dinets watched a juvenile alligator playing with a river otter, and individual crocodilians can bond with people.

"Hundreds of thousands of crocodilians are now kept in captivity in zoos, commercial farms and breeding centers set up for endangered species," said Dinets. "Providing them with toys and other opportunities for play makes them happier and healthier."

The findings are published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition.

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