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Problematic Prey

Saltwater crocodile manipulating mudcrab

This month we have not one but two pictures! When it comes to prey items, you might think that crocodilians always have it their own way, and that nothing can escape once they decide to take a prey item. Unfortunately for the crocodiles, this isn't always true. All crocodilian species are opportunistic with their diet, which means they normally eat a wide variety of prey types - whatever they have the chance to catch. Some species will preferentially select particular types of prey, such as molluscs or crustaceans. Prey selection also depends upon the size of the crocodile - small juveniles obviously won't be bringing down any wildebeest, but they do take a wide variety of creatures including insects, freshwater invertebrates, lizards, frogs, and even small mammals. As they grow, so the type of prey item they can take also increases, and adult crocodilians of the larger species are generally capable of tackling even large mammals such as kangaroos, zebra, smaller buffalo and of course those unfortunate wildebeest. That doesn't stop adult crocs from catching smaller prey, however, which can often take up a large proportion of their diet. Saltwater crocodiles, as the above photograph illustrates, are particularly fond of mud crabs which they find in estuarine and coastal habitats.

Once the prey has been captured, it is dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible to prevent it from escaping, and also from fighting back! The mud crab being eaten in the photograph is in the process of being manipulated to move it closer to the back of the mouth where the shorter, stubby teeth are used in conjunction with the nutcracker-like jaws to split open the prey. The crocodile will do this several times, and don't believe anyone who tells you that crocodiles never chew their prey! If it's large enough to be crushed, they will crush it repeatedly until it's broken up or soft enough to be swallowed. Of course, prey items clearly don't want to get themselves eaten by a crocodile, and will often do everything they can to escape or even fight back as a last resort. Even large crocs, which are often thought of as being invincible, will sometimes face the brunt of an attack by an angry adult buffalo or bull elephant. Big crocs have been kicked, thrown, mauled and even killed by such massively powerful animals. Unless the croc gets that fatal bite in as soon as possible, it better watch out.

Saltwater crocodile being attacked by a mud crab!

But it's not only large prey which can put up a fight. Even this tenacious mud crab, in the picture above, is giving this saltwater crocodile a hard time! The croc simply wasn't fast enough or agile enough to pick up the mud crab, and it paid the price by receiving a painful pinch on the lower mandible. The mud crab has extremely powerful claws, and a good pinch can make even a crocodile think twice. The above pinch enabled the crab to detach its claw and scurry off towards the water, while the crocodile busied itself trying to rub the still pinching claw off on the ground. Unfortunately for the crab, it wasn't fast enough either! The crocodile whirled around and picked the crafty crustacean up before it made good its escape. A few crunches later, and it was all over.


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