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Heads up! Crocs like to go climbing

Scientists get a closer look at tree-scaling crocodiles and alligators, and why they seek higher ground.

Alligator in a tree
An American alligator sits on a tree branch in Mississippi.
Kristine Gingras

Crocodiles are majestic, powerful creatures that can grow up to 23 feet long. Oh, and they could pretty much snap you in half with one well-timed munch. It's one thing to admire these animals at ground level, where you can keep an eye on them. It's another to imagine them dangling above you in a tree canopy. As it turns out, crocs and alligators have a hunger for heights.

The news of the proclivity for these large aquatic reptiles to shimmy up trees comes from a team of researchers and their paper titled "Climbing behavior in extant crocodilians" from the journal Herpetology Notes.

The scientists gathered data on crocodile climbing behaviors from anecdotes, previously published sources, and new observations. The conclusion is that, "...climbing behaviour is common among crocodilians and might have multiple functions." Those functions may include basking to regulate body temperature and surveillance of the area. Scaring the wits out of some people is just an unintended side effect.

So why haven't we been alerted to this before? It turns out that the tree-climbing reptiles are shy. When approached, they plop into the water, meaning you really have to sneak up on them to observe the behavior.

The revelation that crocs go climbing may help scientists gain a greater understanding of the behaviors of extinct animals. Just because an ancient croc-like skeleton fossil doesn't look like it would have crawled up a tree trunk, doesn't mean it didn't wander up into the leaves from time to time.

If it's any consolation, the scientists note that smaller and less heavy reptiles are most likely to go climbing, while the big bruisers stay grounded. The paper concludes that, "Despite lacking any morphological adaptations for climbing trees, crocodilians are capable of entering arboreal environments within the limits of their locomotory abilities, and in some cases might spend considerable time high above ground."

(Via Wired)