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Cunning Crocodiles and Alligators Use Clever Lures to Hunt Prey

First Posted: Dec 05, 2013 07:40 AM EST

As if crocodiles weren't deadly enough--it turns out that these reptiles play it smart when hunting their prey. Researchers have found that crocodiles use lures when seeking something to eat, showing a type of tool use that scientists did not expect.

This research was several years in the making. Vladimir Dinets, the scientist involved in this study, first spotted the behavior in 2007. That's when he saw crocodiles lying in shallow water along the edge of a pond in India with small sticks or twigs positioned across their snouts. These twigs seemed to fool nest-building birds wading through the water, searching for sticks. When the birds came near to the crocodile, it lunged and snapped them up between its jaws.

It isn't only crocodiles that perform this behavior, either. Intrigued by what he saw, Dinets and his colleagues journeyed to four sites in Louisiana. There, they saw American alligators using the same type of lure, placing sticks over their snouts and lying in wait for hours at a time. In fact, the researchers saw a significant increase in alligators using twigs between March and May--the time when birds were building nests.

"This study changes the way crocodiles have historically been viewed," said Dinets in a news release. "They are typically seen as lethargic, stupid and boring but now they are known to exhibit flexible multimodal signaling, advanced parental care and highly coordinated group hunting tactics."

It seems that crocodiles are, in fact, effective and cunning hunters. By using these tactics, they reveal that they don't just rely on their powerful jaws and brute strength in order to take down their prey.

"Our research provides a surprising insight into previously unrecognized complexity of extinct reptile behavior," said Dinets in a news release. "These discoveries are interesting not just because they show how easy it is to underestimate the intelligence of even relatively familiar animals, but also because crocodilians are a sister taxon of dinosaurs and flying reptiles."

The findings are published in the journal Ethology Ecology & Evolution.

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