The Saltwater Crocodile

The Saltwater Crocodile

"How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishies in,
With gently smiling jaws!"
– Lewis Caroll, from Alice in Wonderland

The saltwater crocodile is the largest of all living reptiles and, as the name implies, has a high tolerance for salinity. They live in brackish water around coastal areas and rivers in Australia and southeast Asia. However, you can also find the "salty" in freshwater rivers, billabongs and swamps. This reptile is the direct descendent of the archosaurs, which up until 65 million years ago ruled the reptile kingdom with their superior intelligence.

Salties are large-headed with a heavy set of jaws. A pair of ridges run from the eye orbits along the center of the snout. They have rows of bony scales on their neck and back and their coloring is mainly grayish brown with brown and yellow sides. The ventral surface (belly) is creamy yellow to white, and the tail tends to be more gray on the underside near the tip.

Like all reptiles, saltwater crocodiles are cold blooded. They lie in the sun, but when they get too hot they return to the water to cool off. They are made for water: They have flaps of skin that keep the water our of their throat, eyes and ears when they swim. Their eyelids are clear, enabling them to see under water.

Females lay their eggs, as many as 40, in nests of vegetation that produces heat during decomposition. The mother guards the eggs for about three months, leaving the nest only when the heat becomes unbearable and she must take a quick swim. The babies break out of the shell using a small tooth on their nose that drops off soon after birth. Amazingly, the temperature at which the egg is kept determines the sex of the baby. Eggs kept at 88.8 degrees Fahrenheit (31.6 degrees Celsius) produce male offspring. Hotter or colder will produce females. Only about 1 percent survive to adulthood.

But what most people want to know is this: Do crocodiles actually cry crocodile tears – those tears that express insincere remorse or try to gain sympathy? The answer is yes…and no. They do produce tears through the lacrimal glands like we do, and the tears help to clean and lubricate the eye and reduce bacterial growth. But the rest is a myth, probably originating from 16th century slaver John Hawkins, who reported that crocodiles cried and sobbed like "a Christian body." In doing this they would lure sympathetic victims into range before devouring them.

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