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Beware of Tree-Climbing Crocodiles

Beware of Tree-Climbing Crocodiles

If you thought that climbing a tree was a prudent way to escape acrocodile, think again. New research suggests that several crocodilian species are capable of climbing trees,reports Phys.org.

Even scarier, some crocs can climb trees all the way to the crown of the tree and the behavior is fairly common.

Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor at the University of Tennessee, is the first to thoroughly study this unusual tree-climbing behavior. His study found that at least four crocodilian species, spanning North America, Australia and Africa, were capable of climbing trees: Australian freshwater crocodiles, American crocodiles, Central African slender-snouted crocodiles and Nile crocodiles.

Although crocs usually opt for low-hanging branches above the water, Dinets found that the reptiles were more than capable of climbing vertical trunks. Some were even witnessed climbing to the canopy … and at night.

“Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on,”wrote Dinets and his colleagues. “Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles’ spectacular agility on land.” Yikes! The good news is that the most prolific tree-climbers were the smaller, younger, more agile crocodiles. In other words, it’s unlikely that a man-eater would pounce on you from above.

Researchers theorize that there are at least two reasons for the tree-climbing behavior: thermoregulation and surveillance of habitat. Crocs that climb trees during the day are most likely doing so to sunbathe more effectively, above the shade. But because smaller crocs the ones that climb most often are vulnerable to a variety of predators, they probably also climb to get a better vantage point and to watch for threats. In fact, Dinets noticed that several specimens would leap from their perches and plunge into the water at the first sign of approaching danger.

“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.”

These findings are especially alarming in light of another recent finding, also discovered by Dinets:Crocodilians have been observed using sticks and twigs as lures to hunt for prey. In other words: watch out. Crocodiles are way craftier than they’ve previously been given credit for.

Article by Bryan Nelson
Photo:Richard Fisher/Flickr

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Kara, selected from Mother Nature Network

Mother Nature Network's mission is to help you improve your world. From covering the latest news on health, science, sustainable business practices and the latest trends in eco-friendly technology, MNN.com strives to give you the accurate, unbiased information you need to improve your world locally, globally, and personally all in a distinctive thoughtful, straightforward, and fun style.

103 comments

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8:56AM PDT on Jun 17, 2015

Hahaha, they're even capable of climbing trees, crocs are too awesome.

1:15AM PST on Feb 14, 2015

thanks for sharing :)

3:06AM PDT on Mar 13, 2014

Perhaps they are looking for a cat?

9:55AM PDT on Mar 10, 2014

As of yet I've never encountered one up close and personal...however if I did I think the last place I'd be going anyway is up a tree. We tend to forget that wild creatures are very clever, and they'll adapt almost anyway they can to catch prey and survive. It's just a shame that their biggest predator is us!

4:48AM PDT on Mar 10, 2014

Beware of the human instead

8:46PM PST on Mar 8, 2014

Just what I needed. A croc falling on me from above.

7:34AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

Now we know why crocodiles have survived millions of years!

7:12AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

Do they eat anteaters?

4:01AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

The ones we grow here in the Aussie outback, creeks and rivers wouldn't be able to get their huge selves up a tree...

3:59AM PST on Mar 5, 2014

I have heard you need to zig and zag as they can't do top speed for too long...and run for your life...personally I hope never to encounter one!

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