Crocodiles can climb trees more easily than previously believed, according to a new study.
A new research by a team from the University of Tennesee shows the reptiles are highly adept at climbing trees. The study was headed by Vladimir Dinets, an assistant professor in the psychology department at the university. Dinets and his team are among the first to study the tree-climbing behavior in crocodiles.
The group studied four species of crocodiles from North America, Africa and Australia, gathering data on the biology and behavior of the animals. The researchers looked at previous studies of the animal, and gathered anecdotal evidence for their study. They found crocodiles are able to climb 13 feet up the trees, and can travel up to 16 feet along horizontal branches.
"Climbing a steep hill or steep branch is mechanically similar, assuming the branch is wide enough to walk on. Still, the ability to climb vertically is a measure of crocodiles' spectacular agility on land," wrote the authors of the study.
The researchers said crocodiles were seen hiding up in trees, scouting the area around them. This position would allow the animals to better stake out potential prey while keeping a wide view for possible predators. Australian and African species climbed trees at all hours of the day and night, while American specimens were never recorded climbing trees in the dark.
Whenever an intruder was discovered within 30 feet of the animal, it would quickly drop down from the tree, and scurry back into the water. Researchers believe this behavior is the reason crocodiles were never before known to be avid tree climbers.
Like human children, young crocodiles are more likely to climb trees than older members of their species. Young crocodiles were even observed using series of vertical branches as ladders to quickly climb trees. In order to climb along thinner branches, the animals gripped the sides of the limbs as they scurried along the tree.
"The ability to climb decreases with increasing size and mass. Hatchlings... are lightweight and with their relatively strong claws can even climb vertical brickwork (the cause of occasional crocodile farm escapes)," the authors wrote in the journal article accompanying their research.
Researchers believe the behavior may assist the cold-blooded animal maintain body temperature, while they watch the world around them. In areas where crocodiles had fewer places on the ground to bask, tree climbing was more commonplace.
The new data may shed some light on the behavior of extinct ancestors of crocodiles. Dinets and his team believe similar behavior may have been practiced by other species, now extinct.
In 2013, Dinets showed that crocodiles sometimes use lures, such as sticks, to catch prey.
Adam Britton from Charles Darwin University in Austrailia and Matthew Shirley of the University of Florida worked with Dinets on the study.
Details of how crocodiles climb trees have been published in the journal Herpetology Notes.