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Everything You Need to Know About Crocodiles But Were Afraid to Ask
Sometimes revered but more often feared, crocodiles deserve our respect. They’re certainly survivors. One of the earliest predators, crocodiles are known to have evolved around the same time as dinosaurs. That’s over 200 million years ago. Crocodiles are not dinosaurs, but reptiles. They’re members of the order Crocodylia, making them close relatives to, but different from alligators. There are 23 species of crocodiles ranging in size from less than 2 meters, up to more than 6 meters.
What Makes Crocodiles Such Successful Survivors?
Crocodiles are perfectly adapted to their environment. The can be found in both salt and fresh water in tropical climates through Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas.
Crocodiles can move fast, swimming at up to 32 kilometres per hour. They’re not as fast on land, running at a mere 17 kilometres per hour. Despite the myths, most people should be able to outrun a crocodile, especially as they’re not really adapted to running long distances and will start to tire after 20 to 30 meters.
Running away from a crocodile is perfectly feasible, providing you get the chance. One of the things that makes them formidable hunters is their ability to ambush their prey. A crocodile can stay underwater for more than an hour without needed to surface to breath, then erupt from apparently calm waters to seize prey from the banks.
In areas inhabited by both crocodiles and humans, it’s not unusual to see warning signs close to lakes or rivers. Dog walkers, in particular, are advised to exercise their pets with caution, especially during the breeding season when female crocs can be particularly aggressive.
So what do crocodiles eat? Dogs are the exception rather than the rule. Their normal diet includes fish, amphibians such as frogs, birds, and mammals. Food is swallowed without being chewed as the jaws of these reptiles are not adapted for sideways motion. The 24 teeth are designed to rip prey into chunks and crocodiles sometimes also eat small stones to aid with digestion. Tooth loss is common, but not a problem as crocodiles retain the ability to grow new teeth throughout their life, which could be as long as 70 years. It’s estimated that a single animal could grow as many as 8000 teeth during their lifespan.
As a final adaptation measure, crocodiles are able to survive without food for months at a time. They have an extremely slow metabolism, so while they’ll feast if the opportunity is offered, they can cope with periods of famine without distress.
Not To Be Confused with Alligators
One difference between crocodiles and alligators has already been touched on. Crocodiles can be found in both salt and fresh water. Alligators lack the salt glands found on crocodile tounges so can’t tolerate a salty environment. Alligators have a U-shaped jaw while crocodiles have a V-shaped one and when their mouths are closed teeth can be seen protruding over the upper jaw of a crocodile, In the alligator, teeth are only visible when the mouth is open.
One thing that crocodiles and alligators do have in common is that humans prize their skin. These reptiles may be ferocious but still, human hunters are more to be feared. Many species are endangered and despite the best efforts of conservationists, eliminating poaching remains a challenge.
Swimming with Crocodiles
Jumping into a local watering hole without preparation or understanding would be a foolish thing to do. But if you’re looking for an adrenaline fix, and the opportunity to observe an awesome creature in its home environment there are ways to do so in safety.
Koox Diving, Tulum, Mexico offers nighttime crocodile dives, in small groups of up to six people. The animals you’ll see range in size from babies up to 2-meter specimens. Dives are led by experienced local specialists and offer a unique opportunity to see not just the crocodiles but also other nocturnal aquatic species including such as shads and frogs.
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