Study finds crocodiles are sophisticated hunters

October 13, 2014
Crocodile. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Recent studies have found that crocodiles and their relatives are highly intelligent animals capable of sophisticated behavior such as advanced parental care, complex communication and use of tools for hunting.

New University of Tennessee, Knoxville, research published in the journal Ethology Ecology and Evolution shows just how sophisticated their hunting techniques can be.

Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in UT's Department of Psychology, has found that crocodiles work as a team to hunt their prey. His research tapped into the power of social media to document such behavior.

Studying predatory behavior by crocodiles and their relatives such as alligators and caimans in the wild is notoriously difficult because they are ambush hunters, have slow metabolisms and eat much less frequently than warm-blooded animals. In addition, they are mostly nocturnal and often hunt in murky, overgrown waters of remote tropical rivers and swamps. Accidental observations of their hunting behavior are often made by non-specialists and remain unpublished or appear in obscure journals.

To overcome these difficulties, Dinets used Facebook and other social media sites to solicit eyewitness accounts from amateur naturalists, crocodile researchers and nonscientists working with crocodiles. He also looked through diaries of scientists and conducted more than 3,000 hours of observations himself.

All that work produced just a handful of observations, some dating back to the 19th century. Still, the observations had something in common—coordination and collaboration among the crocodiles in 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.

Crocodiles and alligators were observed conducting highly organized game drives. For example, crocodiles would swim in a circle around a shoal of fish, gradually making the circle tighter until the fish were forced into a tight "bait ball." Then the crocodiles would take turns cutting across the center of the circle, snatching the fish.

Sometimes animals of different size would take up different roles. Larger alligators would drive a fish from the deeper part of a lake into the shallows, where smaller, more agile alligators would block its escape. In one case, a huge saltwater crocodile scared a pig into running off a trail and into a lagoon where two smaller crocodiles were waiting in ambush—the circumstances suggested that the three crocodiles had anticipated each other's positions and actions without being able to see each other.

"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.

Dinets said more observations are needed to better understand what exactly the animals are capable of. "And these observations don't come easily," he said.

Explore further: New measurement of crocodilian nerves could help scientists understand ancient animals

More information: Ethology Ecology & Evolution DOI: 10.1080/03949370.2014.91543

Related Stories

Are crocodiles secret fruit-lovers?

November 12, 2013

Seed dispersal by animals is important for plants to help them occupy new areas of land. Usually bugs, birds, or intrepid kittens do that job. Now we can add crocodiles to that list. A new study reviewed the diets of crocodiles ...

Study finds crocodile tree-climbing and -basking behavior

February 11, 2014

When most people envision crocodiles, they think of them waddling on the ground or wading in water—not climbing trees. However, a University of Tennessee, Knoxville, study has found that the reptiles can climb trees as ...

Positive steps toward wild Siamese crocodile conservation

September 3, 2014

Building on an international partnership, the Cambodian Crocodile Conservation Project (CCCP) recently invited Nikhil Whitaker, curator at the Madras Crocodile Bank Trust (MCBT) in India to help train keepers at Fauna & Flora ...

Recommended for you

Why mole rats are more flexible than we previously thought

August 29, 2016

One of the most interesting facts about mole rats - that, as with ants and termites, individuals specialise in particular tasks throughout their lives - turns out to be wrong. Instead, a new study led by the University of ...

6 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

teslaberry
3.7 / 5 (3) Oct 13, 2014
famous video. interspecies hunting collabortation. grouper and eel. amazing video. amazing.
https://www.youtu...w4wYwqPg
Psilly_T
1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2014
awesome tesla
Sinister1812
5 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2014
They're not stupid. They are cunning and stalk their prey.
ROBTHEGOB
1 / 5 (1) Oct 14, 2014
I can't wait for the movie to come: "PREDITOR vs. CROC!"
teslaberry
3 / 5 (2) Oct 14, 2014
awesome tesla

animals are way smarter than people give them credit for. it has been observed time and again. the reason this is the case is because , on average, human beings are anthropocentric. we are not smart enough to understand everything animals do. and because of our anthropocentrism, a form of myopia, we interpret their behaviors in an inherently biassed way, tipping towards assuming a lack of cognition or purposefulness in behaviors we do not understand.

to make matters more confusing. human beings as a civilization really have a long ways to go until we better understand ourselves. the smarter ones know this is a work in progress , a tapestry of knowledge gotten by wisdom and refining our methods of discovery. the simpletons and cruse amongst us assume we either know everything or that knowledge is just a purposeless artifact of an animal brain.
appreciating the purposefulness of animals , makes us better appreciate ourselves.
disclosure-i eat meat
Anda
not rated yet Oct 15, 2014
Second??? Better than killer whales or dolphins? Doubt it ...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.