IS IT LIVE?

Remember this ad:

or this movie:

These came to mind as I walked through an amazing exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History recently:   “Crocs:  Ancient Predators in a Modern World.”  You’ll see why in a moment.

Viewing crocodiles is not a great departure from my latest obsession with photographing birds, as the two groups of animals are closely related.  Take a look at thee evolutionary trees.  The first  maps genomes (the full DNA sequence of an organism’s base pairs of chromosomes) and the second is a collation by common ancestors:

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Crocodiles and birds are part of the same group called archosaurs, which has existed for 250 million years and which has given rise not only to birds and crocodilians, but also to dinosaurs. In additions to genetic similarities to birds,  crocs also share several important anatomical and behavioral characteristics. Like birds, these large reptiles have four-chambered hearts. They also build nests and care for their young.

Before having babies of course, crocs have their own mating rituals.  I found this one to be most fascinating. The males begin the dance by making a bellowing sound above water, while  below producing low-frequency infrasound which humans cannot hear. However, you can see this sound oscillate the water surrounding the crocodile.

Once male and female crocs do their meet and greet and get down to it, the female lays eggs and buries them in the sand. When the babies are ready to hatch another cool event happens – the pre-hatchlings actually grunt to one another and to their mom signalling the time to hatch – and all the babies, with the help of mama croc emerge from the ground at the same time:

The crocodile has a number of other specific calls. The babies chirp when frightened:

The males make this sound while protecting their turf from other rivals:

I was struck by the similarity of this sound to a ritual human sound:

Crocodiles also have a few other physical traits presently not enjoyed by humans but certainly would be a great addition:

  • The teeth of the crocodile are continually replaced as they wear. When an old tooth is lost, one under it grows into its place. A croc may go through as many as 3,000 teeth in its life.
  • Crocodiles rarely suffer from infections. This resistance seems to be due in part to proteins in crocodile blood which provide innate immunity to bacteria, viruses and fungi.

The exhibit at the Museum of Natural History offered a wealth of information in a multitude of ways.  There were roving docents who offered tidbits and readily answered questions.  There were many interactive displays where one could for example, listen to different croc sounds similar to those above, or test one’s strength versus the bite of a crocodile, which can supply up to  250,000 pounds of pressure per square inch:

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Using my whole body as leverage I managed to get to the 200lb bite force level (weight training)!

Another interactive kiosk offered visitors a chance to “create” their own ancient croc by choosing attributes of size (gargantuan or tiny) snout (pointed or round) legs (short or long) and so on.  Surprisingly, all of the creatures we “created” actually existed – take a look at the few I came up with:

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The most surprising attractions were live crocodiles!  I had been most intrigued when first reading about this exhibit as I couldn’t imagine how this would be accomplished.  It turns out to be rather simple.  Despite the great size  of some of the adult crocodile species, they require little space as they spend most of their time practically immobile, lounging in the water or relaxing on the sand.

This brings us back to the title of this post.  It wasn’t necessary to take any videos. While these baby West African Dwarf Crocodiles did move now and then in and out of the water, opening and closing their eyes :

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These Siamese Crocodiles didn’t bat an eye or change position in the water:

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This snaggled-tooth American Alligator didn’t move a muscle during our entire visit:

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If you are wondering, the difference between alligators and crocodiles is snout shape.   Alligators have wider, U-shaped snouts, while crocodiles’ are more pointed and V-shaped.

This last crocodile was not real – it was a replica of a croc that was found in Papua New Guinea named Gomek.  Born in the 1930’s Gomek was captured live in 1968 when villagers complained that a massive crocodile was chasing boats and killing people. Gomek was eventually moved to a wildlife park near the Great Barrier Reef of Australia and lived until a ripe old age of 65 years old.  And, by the way he was 17 feet and 9 inches long and weighed 2,000 pounds:

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Hard to top this – but wait and see what is coming!

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