Thursday, February 13, 2014

Can crocodiles really climb trees?

photo by M. van Welsem / Mabuwaya Foundation
Philppine crocodile adult
Vladimir Dinets, Matt Shirley and I recently published a paper entitled "Climbing behaviour in extant crocodilians". Here's a link if you'd like to read it. The resulting news stories have been quite extensive, to say the least! Everyone is fascinated by the idea that crocodiles, those vicious man-eating predators we keep hearing about, could climb trees. Perhaps it means that climbing a tree to escape a crocodile is no longer an option? Perhaps it means that crocodiles will start dropping from the branches onto your head for a surprise dinner date? Perhaps when you see a fallen tree by the river bank, you'll think "Wow, it must have been a heavy crocodile to bring that one down!"

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.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Accurate headlines: "Crocodile nightmare"

Crocodile drama (photographer unknown)
The media really loves crocodiles, not because journalists necessarly like crocodiles, but because the word "crocodile" casts a thrall over many readers. They see a headline with the magic word in it, and they have to click the link, or buy the paper in the newsagent. It's therefore too much to resist shoehorning the word "crocodile" into as many news stories as possible. Every so often when I see a really egregious example, in the interests of accuracy and balance, I'm going to write a more accurate version. I'll try and post these under the tag "Accurate headlines". So, let's get started.

Here's one (courtesy ninemsn) that struck me today, and it's a familiar theme. The headline is "Crocodile nightmare for four fishing mates". So wow, that sounds pretty dramatic! Were these four guys attacked by a crocodile? Perhaps they were threatened by one, or were in serious danger of being attacked?