By Vern and Lori Gieger
What a Croc!
It is not easy being a crocodile, which may have something to do with their ominous dominating presence. After all, for nearly 100 million years during the Mesozoic era (248-65 million years ago), the crocodilian order ruled the Earth; today’s crocodiles have changed little. They are still the most advanced reptile species, and they still frighten most people.
For the moment put aside your uncertainties and learn what makes them tick. Crocodiles have complex behavior patterns, including socialization, hierarchies (social order), different vocal sounds, and yes, mothers do take good care of their young. The female crocodile lays 50-80 eggs in a nest she covers with leaves and other vegetation.
The decomposing vegetation keeps the eggs warm and the nest moist. Unlike other reptiles, she then stands guard defending her nest ferociously for the next 90 days or so, until the eggs hatch. When the hatching call out their mother opens up the nest and carries the babies gently in her mouth to the water, where they immediately start feeding on crabs, and insects. Even with mom watching over them, half will not survive the first year.
Less than 1 in 100 crocodiles actually survive to ten years of age. Being eaten by predators is very common for young crocodiles; which can also include other crocodiles. Larger crocodiles only need to steer clear of other large crocodiles and humans with firearms or spears.
Like all reptiles, crocodiles regulate their body temperature by basking in the sun when the weather is cool, and by relaxing in the shade when it is hot. All crocodiles are territorial, especially males, not only to ensure a sufficient food supply, but also to keep rival males away from his females.
Crocodiles feed on a large variety of prey such as small mammals, birds, etc. Although they have very strong jaws they do not chew their food. They swallow it in large chunks. Crocodiles capture their prey and move to deep water, where they roll to drown the animal; commonly referred to as the death roll. They can leap high out of the water to catch their prey if necessary. Crocodiles are fast and their strength is in their explosive impact, but if their bite doesn’t connect with the prey or attacker, they typically lose the initiative. Compared to mammals, crocodiles have limited stamina and tire easily; a persistent mammal such as a large cat can often get the upper hand with smaller crocodiles.
The crocodilian family is divided into three groups: crocodiles, alligators & caimans; all are found in warm tropical areas. Crocodiles have longer, narrower snouts than alligators, and the fourth tooth of the lower jaw is outside when the mouth is closed. Their eyes and nostrils are on the top part of the head so that they can lie in the water almost completely hidden from view. Their long, flattened tail moves from side to side and propels them through the water, with their legs tucked up against their sides. Their legs are short with webbed toes. On land, crocodiles can move very quickly, lifting their bodies up off the ground.
Crocodiles have one of the most efficient immune systems of any animal, enabling them to survive in bacteria-filled water and mud. Being able to fight off a potential infection is very important. Wounds are common from fights or injuries from prey; however, healthy crocodiles heal quickly. The secret behind this remarkable ability is an antibiotic in their blood, called "crocodillin." The only time crocodiles suffer from infections is when they become stressed as their health declines. This affects their immune system and they can suddenly become susceptible to common bacteria they would normally shrug off. This can be seen in captive crocodiles kept in poor conditions, or wild inferior or injured crocodiles that are unable to secure a territory and enough food to survive. Although they are formidable, it’s a tough life being a crocodile.
The oldest known crocodile was 115 years old when it died in a Russian zoo in 1997. Did you know that crocs cough up hairballs like cats?
Now, you’re ready to take a trip to the coast, La Manzanilla, Jalisco and visit the crocodile refuge and get up close and personal. If you’re not to faint of heart, buy fish and toss it to the crocs from the safety of the platform. However we don’t recommend you try to impersonate Steve Irwin, and wrestle with one.