Biologists Say Crocodiles Work as Team to Hunt Their Prey

First Posted: Oct 14, 2014 06:02 AM EDT

Biologists have discovered that crocodiles indulge in sophisticated hunting technique and they work as a team to hunt for a prey.

Recent studies have shown that crocodiles and their relatives are highly intelligent animals and are capable of sophisticated behavior like advanced parental care, complex communication and the use of various tools for hunting.

Generally, it is very challenging to study the predatory behavior of crocodiles and their relatives like alligators as well as the caimans in the wild as they are ambush hunters. Also, they have a slow metabolism and eat less frequently than the warm-blooded animals. These animals are nocturnal in nature and mostly hunt in murky, overgrown waters of isolated tropical rivers and swamps.

Their hunting behaviour, accidentally observed by the non-specialists, often remains unpublished. Researchers at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, looked at Facebook and other social media sites to gather eyewitness accounts from amateur naturalists, crocodile researchers and non-scientists working with crocodiles. They also looked at diaries of scientists and conducted more than 3,000 hours of observations.

Valdimir Dinets, assistant professor of the research, led the study by turning to social media to document such types of behaviour. He found that crocodiles work as a team to hunt their prey.

Some of the observations dated back to the 19th century. However, these observations had something in common, the coordination and collaboration among the crocodiles in the hunting their prey.

"Despite having been made independently by different people on different continents, these records showed striking similarities. This suggests that the observed phenomena are real, rather than just tall tales or misinterpretation," said Dinets.

The researchers noticed crocodiles and alligators involving in highly organized game drive. They stated an example of crocodile attack on a shoal of fish. The crocodile would initially swim in a circle around a shoal of fish, gradually making the circle tighter and smaller until the fish is forced into a tight 'bait ball'. The crocodile would then take turns cutting across the center of the circle and then snatching the fish.

Animals with different sizes take up various roles. In case of a larger alligator, it would chase a fish from the deeper part of the lack into the shallows, where the smaller and agile alligators would then obstruct its escape.

"All these observations indicate that crocodilians might belong to a very select club of hunters -- just 20 or so species of animals, including humans -- capable of coordinating their actions in sophisticated ways and assuming different roles according to each individual's abilities. In fact, they might be second only to humans in their hunting prowess," said Dinets.

The finding was documented in the journal Ethology Ecology and Evolution.

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