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Crocs at Play

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You've seen the crocodile's "smile," but have you ever thought that they might just want to have fun? OK - that's blatant anthropomorphism, but there are some reports of crocodilians "playing." We know that mammals play, but that's not a behavior that we immediately think about when it comes to reptiles. Here are a few examples of possible "play" behavior in crocs.

Pete Strimple in Reptiles Magazine (10/97) mentions an article in the Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter (Oct-Dec. 1996) which relates the story of Mr. Cook and the surfing crocodile. Phil Cook was visiting the Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas, Queensland, Australia, when he saw a large crocodile, about 2.5 meters long, appear in the shallow water in front of him. It opened its mouth at him, turned and swam back into the surf, then rode the waves again back to the beach. Unfortunately, the article doesn't mention how many times this occurred. You can see the complete article, and a photo of the "surfing croc" at the CSG website.

Lazell and Spitzer (1977) reported that a young Alligator mississippiensis on St. Catherine's Island, Georgia, played with dripping water for at least 45 minutes. The young gator was in a small pond which was fed by a large pipe. Dripping water attracted the alligator's attention. It swam around the dripping pipe, then turned to face the pipe. After watching for a few moments, the alligator would slowly pass towards, then veer away from the drip. It then began snapping at the drip as it cruised past it, sometimes allowing it to drip onto his head before biting at it. This behavior continued until the drip stopped.

A third report, by Divyabhanusinh (1986), noted the unusual behavior by a marsh crocodile towards a sambar that had been killed and partially eaten by a tiger. Two crocodiles had been near the dead sambar, and one had taken a few bites, but both eventually wandered away from it. A third crocodile, approximately 10 feet in length, walked up to the sambar, grabbed it by the neck, and began spinning around five or six times. It stopped with its feet in the air, sambar still in its mouth, then slowly rolled over onto its feet. It released the dead animal, then walked away without eating any of it. The author photographed the event, and the picture is included as a plate to the article. I don't know how far this can be stretched as play behavior, but it's an interesting speculation.

Citations:

Divyabhanusinh. 1986. Note on the strange behavior of a marsh crocodile (Crocodylus palustris). Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society 83(Supplement): 220-221.

Lazell, J.D., Jr., and N. C. Spitzer. 1977. Apparent play behavior in an American alligator. Copeia 1977(1): 188-189.