DEC 11, 2013 12:00 AM PST

Alligators and Crocodiles Discovered Using Lures to Hunt Prey

WRITTEN BY: Jen Ellis
The American alligator, for all its menacing reputation, is often considered to be one of the more pokey of the reptile family: not a specimen renowned for cleverness. But the next time you're tempted to point (from a safe distance) and perhaps giggle, mind that behind those sleepy eyes lurks the heart of a master assassin who knows a trick or two about catching a hearty meal!

Two species of crocodilians - the mugger of India and the American alligator - have been discovered using twigs and sticks as lures to draw the attention of birds looking for nesting material. Equally impressive: the crocodiles time the behavior to coincide with the seasonal cycles of the birds they prey upon. And to top it all off, it is the very first time that tool-use has been observed in any species of reptile.

Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, made the observations beginning in 2007. His research, which had collaboration with J.C. and J.D. Brueggen of the St. Augustine Alligator Farm Zoological Park in S. Augustine, Florida, is being published in the current issue of the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution. Dinet elaborates upon his findings and writes more about crocodile behavior in his book Dragon Songs.
The behavior was first found in India, where Dinets observed crocodiles on the shallow edges of a pond lying in apparent rest. However, the crocodiles had small twigs perched across their snouts. The crocodiles remained perfectly still for hours as birds approached the pond, likely believing that the twigs and sticks floated on the surface. If a bird came within reach, a crocodile would spring in action and lunge for the avian prey.

Upon returning to the United States, Dinets and his associates conducted observations at four locations in Louisiana: two rookeries (bird-breeding grounds) and two that were not rookeries. All four sites produced observations of alligators using twigs to lure birds. However the alligators also knew when to make the most efficient use of the tactic. At the rookery sites, the alligators employed the sticks throughout the nest-building season. At the non-breeding locations which would see the most nest-building activity, the alligators timed the twig-luring behavior to take advantage of the birds looking for nesting fodder.

It is a discovery that could potentially alter the prevailing wisdom about alligators and crocodiles. Tool use among crocodilians indicates a more complex psychology than previously believed, and may even be a trait waiting to be observed across more of the reptile family. "This basically changes the way we have been looking at crocodiles across the years," Dinets said. "They are stereotypically seen as sluggish, stupid and dull but now they are proven to display flexible multimodal signaling, advanced parental care and highly coordinated group hunting tactics."
About the Author
You May Also Like
APR 28, 2020
Chemistry & Physics
Carbon-Dating Ancient Pottery Just Got Easier
APR 28, 2020
Carbon-Dating Ancient Pottery Just Got Easier
Carbon-dating Pottery Kitchenware Just Got Easier Pottery, especially vessels that our ancestors used to eat and drink w ...
MAY 19, 2020
Earth & The Environment
Three-fourths of migratory birds in the Pacific threatened by overhunting
MAY 19, 2020
Three-fourths of migratory birds in the Pacific threatened by overhunting
Overhunting of migratory shorebirds in the Asia-Pacific region has reached an all-time high - and conservationists are c ...
JUN 02, 2020
Genetics & Genomics
Sea Snake Vision Has Been Evolving for Millions of Years
JUN 02, 2020
Sea Snake Vision Has Been Evolving for Millions of Years
New research has learned more about how and when sea snakes gained color vision.
JUN 14, 2020
Plants & Animals
Giant Hornet Queen Struggles to Establish Her Nest
JUN 14, 2020
Giant Hornet Queen Struggles to Establish Her Nest
Giant hornets are among the world’s largest and deadliest hornets, which might explain why they’re so revere ...
JUN 21, 2020
Cell & Molecular Biology
Researchers Learn What Drives a Plant 'Erection'
JUN 21, 2020
Researchers Learn What Drives a Plant 'Erection'
Pollen is produced by trees, grasses, and weeds, and it's a way for plants to reproduce by disseminating their genet ...
JUN 10, 2020
Neuroscience
Monkeys More Responsive to Hyper-Realistic Animations of Monkeys
JUN 10, 2020
Monkeys More Responsive to Hyper-Realistic Animations of Monkeys
Video:  More about Uncanny Valley Syndrome from MOCH it.   Rhesus macaques are a species of monkey often used ...
Loading Comments...