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Territory Wars

Saltwater crocodiles fighting

Saltwater crocodiles fighting

It's breeding season for saltwater crocodiles. Competition for territory and the females within is not only intense, it is extremely violent.

Saltwater crocodiles are perhaps the most territorial of all crocodilian species. Adults are particularly intolerant of other adults, and this territoriality is displayed by both males and females. The territory size for female saltwater crocodiles is normally quite small (less than a kilometre's diameter in the wild) and associated with the preferred nesting location. Females will drive other females out of their territory and prevent them from nesting. Males, on the other hand, tend to have much larger territories, particularly big adults. Other adults within those territories are rarely tolerated for long, particularly during the breeding season. In captivity, this highly territorial nature can be inhibited to some degree, but fights still break out.

The two photographs above show a couple of duelling saltwater crocodiles. Crocodiles, like many other animals, try and circumvent actual physical violence through a combination of different visual, acoustic, chemical and mechanical signals. Dominant animals raise their bodies out of the water, whereas submissive animals raise their heads up at a steep angle and often vocalise. Two dominant animals meeting will try and out-intimidate each other, but if this fails then violence is the only recourse. Saltwater crocodiles fight in a quite ritualistic manner, with the head being used for offense. The head is lifted out of the water, along with the body, and then used to smash the opponent on the head or body - like cracking a whip. The crocodile's head is mostly reinforced bone, and the head smash can do tremendous damage: teeth slice through skin and flesh, bone is cracked or even shattered, and teeth go flying. The upper photograph shows the aftermath of a head smash, with the crocodile on the left narrowly missing its target. The lower photograph shows the crocodile on the right landing a head smash on the opponent's upper jaw.

Despite the damage which can be caused, its implications are rarely serious. Crocodilians have an incredible immune system, and an efficient healing system, and injuries usually heal rapidly within a few days.


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