by M. van Welsem / Mabuwaya Foundation|
Philppine crocodile adult
Of course I'm just having a bit of fun. None of those possibilities are true, you'll be pleased to hear. Actually, it's been known for a long time that crocodilians (or crocodylians if you want to be pedantic) can climb out of the water onto floating logs and low branches. We didn't publish a paper to point this out, but rather we wanted to explore how widespread this was, and look into the reasons why crocodiles might do this, and even allow us to speculate on how extinct crocodyliforms may have behaved. After all, if you look at a modern crocodile and think there's no way it could climb a tree, you're not going to assume a fossil crocodyliform with a similar morphology is going to be able to do it either. Well, here's a cool thing, some modern species can climb trees, and they can do so remarkably well, often getting several metres off the ground up relatively steep trunks and branches. The modern crocodilian limb is more adaptable than you might have thought.
|photo by Petr Myska, C. acutus juveniles|
We might be seeing an increase in climbing behaviour if crocodile populations are recovering and competition for basking sites rises. Changes in habitat can also alter behaviour. The point is, crocodilians are agile enough to climb up steep banks and tree branches if the need arises, they're better at it than you might have thought, and anything that makes us appreciate crocodilians a little more has to be a good thing.
|photo by Kristine Gingras, alligator up a tree in a non-tidal area|
|Another possible explanation for crocodiles in trees?|
Still, next time you see a crocodile or an alligator sitting in a tree, even if it's a low branch or floating log, consider it as a glimpse back in time to an age where long-extinct species once hunted for their prey over land and up into the trees. If you think that was unlikely, look at Mekosuchus, a group that may have occupied an ecological niche similar to modern day goannas, and therefore considered by some to have been capable of climbing trees quite easily, perhaps to raid bird nests, perhaps to escape from predators, and perhaps just to find a nice, safe, comfortable spot to bask.