Though the reptiles lack obvious physical features to suggest this
is possible, crocodiles in fact climb trees all the way to the
crowns, according to University of Tennessee researcher Vladimir
Researchers in the climbing study observed crocodiles in Australia,
Africa and North America. The study documented crocodiles climbing
as high as six feet off the ground. But Dinets said he received
anecdotal reports from people who spend time around crocodiles of
the reptiles climbing almost 30 feet.
Dinets said crocodiles lack the toe and foot structure that would be
expected of a climber. However, smaller and juvenile crocodiles in
particular were observed climbing vertically while larger ones
tended to climb angled trunks and branches, all of which is a
measure of the reptiles' spectacular agility, he said.
"They just go slowly," he said. "Eventually they get there."
The finding was reported in January in Herpetology Notes in
collaboration with Adam Britton from Charles Darwin University in
Australia and Matthew Shirley from the University of Florida.
The researchers believe the crocodiles climb to keep a lookout on
their territory and to warm themselves in the sun.
"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."
[to top of second column]
People who spend time around crocodiles have known about the
climbing ability for decades, Dinets said, but this study is the
first to thoroughly examine the climbing and basking behavior.
Dinets also was co-author of a widely reported study in 2013 that
demonstrated crocodiles used sticks and twigs to hunt, balancing
nest-building material on their snouts just above the water line to
lure birds. The crocodiles lay in wait for hours and lunged when a
bird ventured near.
That finding was the first reported use of tools by any reptile and
the first known case of predators timing the use of lures to a
seasonal behavior in their prey, according to a University of
Tennessee press release at the time.
The latest climbing study suggests paleontologists studying extinct
species should be cautious about drawing conclusions from fossils,
"If crocodiles were extinct and you only knew them from fossils, you
wouldn't be able to guess they climb trees because they don't have
any physical adaptations," Dinets said.
"Assumptions based on fossils, he said, can be "far less correct
than people think."
(Editing by David Adams and Jonathan Oatis)
[© 2014 Thomson Reuters. All rights
Copyright 2014 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published,
broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.