PIC OF THE MONTH


Crocodilian images which reveal fascinating stories told from a visual perspective.



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Ménage à trois

Saltwater crocodiles courting

Breeding season in saltwater crocodiles usually begins in late August in captivity, and up to a month later in the wild. Males which enter the territory of another male area usually dealt with swiftly: aggressive posturing, infrasonic and audible signalling at first, and violent head smashing and biting if the message needs to be reinforced. With females, however, it's a different story.

A female saltwater crocodile approached by a male will normally react by raising her head. This is a submissive posture, signalling a possible willingness to mate, although at any time the female can swim away quickly to avoid the male's intentions. She will also frequently dive underwater if she's not interested.

If the male is in luck and the female remains in position, he will begin circling her. Courtship can be long and drawn out, with the male rubbing the female's head with his chin, smearing his musky scent (from glands under the throat) over her and enticing her to mate with him. He will often dip his head underneath hers and rub her throat, exhaling and blowing bubbles around her jaws. Sometimes, however, the male dispenses with many of these pleasantries and gets straight to the job at hand. He will swim over her and then push her body down under the water. His aim is to rotate her back legs and tail to one side so he can align his vent with hers, extrude his penis (crocs have a single copulatory organ, not paired hemipenes like most other reptiles), and copulate with her. This usually occurs underwater, with the pair submerging for several minutes at a time. It may also occur at the surface, with the male riding the female for some time before she swims away.

You might be wondering what this has to do with the picture and title this month! In fact, most crocodilian species display a great degree of exuberance in their courtship behaviour. Males will frequently attempt to mate with other males, and females do the same with females. Threesomes are not uncommon either, as you can see from the picture above - the courting pair to the right (female and male) are being interrupted by a second male to the left. A third male is approaching the sexual mélee, and he displays his dominance with a signal not photographed before in saltwater crocodiles: a water dance display over his back. This is produced as the crocodile judders its flanks and creates an infrasonic flutter in the water. American alligators normally perform a very elaborate water dance during bellowing, but saltwater crocodiles perform miniature versions whilst swimming around and signalling to one another.


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