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Crocodiles - What do they eat and how do they kill it
Crocodiles are magnificent creatures. They have been around since the time of the dinosaurs, and they have taken this time to prefect themselves into the ultimate killing machines. They are masters of camouflage, strong, and if needed they can go without food for a long time. They are the creatures of many people’s nightmares. But when you are careful around crocodile territory, you don’t have to fear them, you can just enjoy them for what they are, the gatekeepers of the rivers. And please contribute to crocodile conservation.
The whole family of different species is called the ‘crocodilians’. This includes salt-water crocodiles, fresh-water crocodiles, alligators, gharials and caimans. At present there are 23 different species of crocodilians around the world. Most of these are endangered though, because human civilization is slowly taking over their territory. This means housing developments are built around the rivers where they live, and crocodilians are chased out. This is a shame, and unbalances the whole eco-systems of these rivers. Many other animal species have adapted to the crocodiles around them, and crocs live by the rule of the fittest will survive. They eat weak and sick animals. Crocodile conservation is very important and deserves far more attention than it currently gets.
What they eat
Crocodiles are very opportunistic creatures and they will eat most whatever they can find. They are carnivorous, and live on fish (the smaller crocs), rodents and small animals. Large crocodiles kill larger prey, and the largest ones have been known to catch cows, buffalos, or horses. When the food is scarce, a large crocodile could even eat other, smaller crocodiles. They will also eat dead animals if they find them. Their smell is quite good, and they can detect death and decay for several kilometres. They will swim large distances to come and eat it. And if a good meal comes by before they need to feed again, they will store this away for a couple of days. Because they tear off large pieces to swallow whole, it takes them some time to digest this food, up to 3 to 7 days. For this they need to bank in the sun, to get their temperatures right. If they don’t control their body temperature sufficiently for this, the meat in its guts might start to rot, and this could kill the crocodile. Swallowing has to be done above water. It grabs the prey, and holds its head up out of the water vertically, so the food literally falls down into his body.
They can even go without food for weeks at a time, if it is scarce. Some scientists believe the croc can actually go without food for up to a year. But they have to keep rather calm to save their energy, and make sure their body temperature is well regulated. When food is available, they will usually eat about once or twice a week, as often as their digestive system can handle.
How they kill it
They are ambush predators and have perfected the way they hunt. When they are in the water, only their eyes, ears, and nose are visible above water, and you can barely see them. They can stay under water for up to two hours at a time. They are very clever and often study other animals for a while before they attack. For example, when a sheep comes to the same spot to drink every day, it will be waiting for the sheep the next day, and grab it when it is drinking, and at its most vulnerable. They can wait, deadly still, for hours in the same spot, and then they strike when the prey comes within range. They lunge, with the help of their strong tail, and strike faster than the prey can move.
They are fast swimmers for short distances, and they have up to 1,5 ton (3000lb) per square inch jaw pressure. However the muscles to open their mouth are not so strong, and you could keep a crocodiles mouth shut rather easily (don’t try this ever!). Their sight and their hearing are finely tuned, they can sense movements and vibrations in the water or on the shore from far off. They have two eyelids, one normal, and one transparent, so they can see underwater. Their tail is immensely powerful, and they use it for swimming, and to lunge themselves out of the water in a burst of speed and power. Crocodile teeth are sharp and deadly. When they lose their teeth they will just grow new ones. This is why they are deadly predators, they are smart, have good memories, and their bodies are designed for the camouflage and kill. They will sit around and wait for hours for their prey.
The combination of the strong jaw pressure and their sharp crocodile teeth is a deadly weapon. They can kill and crush, but they can’t chew, so food must be swallowed in its entirety. If they catch a prey that is too big to swallow at once, they shake their heads, and thrash it on the water to tear it into smaller pieces.
In the water crocodiles are at their best. They are powerful and fast. To swim the line up their front and back legs with their body so they are very streamlined. They use their tail to swim through the water, and can be as fast as a dolphin. They use their back feet to thread water pull backwards, doggy paddle or slowly walk over the bottom of the river. Their back feet have webbed toes. When the croc is under water is almost impossible to spot it. In clear water, it looks exactly like a tree log, and in murky water is just invisible. Their most dangerous, and most famous, move is the strike. They sit very still, watching their prey, or just sensing its movement. Then with a massive burst of energy and power, they lunge themselves out of the water. They use their tail and back legs to torpedo themselves forward or upwards out of the water. Their jaws are open, ready to grab hold of the pray and snap closed. Their eyes are pulled back into their heads for protection. It is most definitely the deadliest killing machine since the dinosaurs left our planet, and they deserve our devotion in crocodile conservation!