Saltwater crocodile

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Saltwater crocodile
Temporal range: 4.5–0Ma
Early Pliocene – Recent
Conservation status
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Reptilia
Order: Crocodylia
Family: Crocodylidae
Genus: Crocodylus
Species: C. porosus
Binomial name
Crocodylus porosus
Schneider, 1801
Crocodylus porosus range.png
Range of the saltwater crocodile in black

The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), also known as saltie, estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the largest of all living reptiles, as well as the largest terrestrial and riparian predator in the world. The males of this species can reach sizes up to 6.3 m (20.7 ft) and weigh up to 1,360 kg (3,000 lb).[2] However, an adult male saltwater crocodile is generally between 4.3 and 5.2 m (14 and 17 ft) in length and weighs 400 to 1,000 kg (880–2,200 lb), rarely growing larger.[3] Females are much smaller and often do not surpass 3 m (9.8 ft). As the name implies, this species of crocodile can live in salt water, but usually resides in mangrove swamps, estuaries, deltas, lagoons, and lower stretches of rivers. They have the broadest distribution of any modern crocodile, ranging from the eastern coast of India, throughout most of Southeast Asia, stretching south to northern Australia, and historically ranging as far west as just beyond the eastern coast of Africa and as far east as waters off the coast of Japan.

The saltwater crocodile is a formidable and opportunistic hypercarnivorous "apex" ambush predator capable of taking almost any animal that enters its territory, including fish, crustaceans, reptiles, birds and mammals, including other predators. Due to their size and distribution, saltwater crocodiles are the most dangerous extant crocodilian to humans.[4][5][6]

Taxonomy and evolution[edit]

Crocodylus porosus is believed to have a direct link to similar crocodilians that inhabited the shorelines of the supercontinent Gondwana (which included what is now the Australian continent) as long ago as 98 million years and were survivors of the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Fossils of Isisfordia, discovered in outback western Queensland (once a vast inland sea) though smaller in size, show attributes of direct lineage to Crocodylus porosus, suggesting it occupied a similar habitat, with vertebrae indicating it shared the ability to death roll during feeding.[7][8][9] Incomplete fossil records make it difficult to accurately trace the emergence of the species. The genome was fully sequenced in 2007.[10] The earliest fossil evidence of the species dates to around 4.0-4.5 million years ago [11] and no subspecies are known. Scientists estimate that C. porosus is an ancient species that could have diverged from 12 to 6 million years ago.[12][13][14]


Saltwater crocodile skull from The Museum of Zoology, Russia
Head of a saltwater crocodile

The saltwater crocodile has a wide snout compared to most crocodiles. However, it has a longer muzzle than the mugger crocodile; its length is twice its width at the base.[15] The saltwater crocodile has fewer armour plates on its neck than other crocodilians. On this species, a pair of ridges runs from the eyes along the centre of the snout. The scales are oval in shape and the scutes are small compared to other species.[16] The adult saltwater crocodile's broad body contrasts with that of most other lean crocodiles, leading to early unverified assumptions the reptile was an alligator.[2] The head is very large. The largest skull sized that could be scientifically verified was for a specimen in the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle sourced to Cambodia, the skull length for this specimen was 76 cm (30 in) (female skull lengths of over 45 cm (18 in) are exceptional), with a mandibular length of 98.3 cm (38.7 in) and a maximum width across the skull (near the base) of 48 cm (19 in). The length of the specimen this came from is not known but based on skull-to-total-length ratios for very large saltwater crocodiles its length was presumably somewhere in the 7 m (23 ft 0 in) range.[17][18][19] Although it is the largest overall living crocodilian and reptile, other crocodilians may have a proportionately longer skull, namely the gharial and the false gharial, skull lengths in the latter have been verified up to 84 cm (33 in) (the largest crocodilian skull verified for a living species), although both of these thin-snouted species have less massive skulls and considerably less massive bodies than the saltwater crocodile.[19] The teeth are also long, with the largest teeth (the fourth tooth from the front on the lower jaw) having been measured at up to 9 cm (3.5 in) in length.[20][21] If detached from the body, the head of a very large male crocodile can reportedly weigh over 200 kg (440 lb) alone.[22]

Young saltwater crocodiles are pale yellow in colour with black stripes and spots on their bodies and tails. This colouration lasts for several years until the crocodiles mature into adults. The colour as an adult is much darker greenish-drab, with a few lighter tan or grey areas sometimes apparent. Several colour variations are known and some adults may retain fairly pale skin, whereas others may be so dark as to appear blackish. The ventral surface is white or yellow in colour on saltwater crocodiles of all ages. Stripes are present on the lower sides of their bodies, but do not extend onto their bellies. Their tails are grey with dark bands.[23][24]


Sweetheart, a large crocodile, at about 5.1 m (17 ft)

Newly hatched saltwater crocodiles measure about 25 to 30 cm (9.8–11.8 in) long and weigh an average of 70 g (2.5 oz).[25] By their second year, young crocodiles grow to 1 m (3 ft 3 in) long and weigh 2.5 kg (5.5 lb).[26] Considering that they range in mass from the relatively tiny hatchling size at to the massive size attainable in very large males, saltwater crocodiles are one of the most variable sized known vertebrates on earth.[27] Males reach sexual maturity around 3.3 m (10 ft 10 in) at around 16 years of age, while females reach sexual maturity at 2.1 m (6 ft 11 in) and 12–14 years of age.[24] An adult male saltwater crocodile is normally 3.9 to 5.2 m (12 ft 10 in–17 ft 1 in) long, weighing 400 to 1,000 kg (880–2,200 lb).[22][28][29] Adult males with stable home territories averaged 4.17 m (13 ft 8 in) per one study.[30] Yet another study found mature males to average 4.49 m (14 ft 9 in).[31] However, large, mature males can exceed 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in) in length and weigh more than 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).[32][19] The largest confirmed saltwater crocodile on record was 6.3 m (20 ft 8 in) long, and weighed about 1,360 kg (3,000 lbs).[2][33] Due to extensive poaching during the 20th century, such individuals are extremely rare today, as it takes a long time for the crocodiles to attain those sizes. Also, a possible earlier presence of particular genes may have led to such large-sized saltwater crocodiles, genes that were ultimately lost from the overall gene pool due to trophy hunting. However, with recent restoration of saltwater crocodile habitat and reduced poaching, the number of large crocodiles is increasing, especially in Odisha. Recently, Guinness has accepted a claim of a 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in), 2,000-kg (4,400-lb) male saltwater crocodile living within Bhitarkanika Park in Odisha.[34][35] However, due to the difficulty of trapping and measuring a very large living crocodile, the accuracy of these dimensions has yet to be verified. Currently, four other crocodiles over 6 m (19 ft 8 in) are claimed to live in the Bhitarkanika Park. In the future, if conservation efforts pay off, these large individuals could be more common.[5][33] This species is the only extant crocodilian to regularly reach or exceed 5.2 m (17 ft 1 in).[22][19]

The main determinant of weight is length. The weight of a crocodile increases steeply as length increases. A 10-cm increase in a 1-m-long crocodile would result in a 900-g increase in weight, but a 34-kg gain in the case of a 5-m-long individual.[26] This explains why individuals at 6 m (19 ft 8 in) can weigh more than twice that of individuals at 5 m (16 ft). Weight can also vary enormously based on condition and age; older males tend to outweigh younger ones, since they maintain prime territories with access to better, more abundant prey. For example, crocodiles at 4.8 m (15 ft 9 in) long usually range in weight from 422 to 950 kg (930 to 2,094 lb). On average, though, these 4.8-m individuals would weigh around 520 kg (1,150 lb), and at 5.5 to 5.8 m (18 ft 1 in–19 ft 0 in) would weigh about 1,000 kg (2,200 lb).[2][36] This species has the greatest sexual dimorphism of any modern crocodilian, with the females being much smaller than males. Typical female body lengths range from 2.3 to 3.5 m (7 ft 7 in to 11 ft 6 in).[2] Females at 3 m (9 ft 10 in) in length, such as Connie and Cookie, kept at the Australia Zoo, weigh 150 kg (330 lb).[3] A female of a median length of 2.7 m (8 ft 10 in) will weigh about 80 to 100 kg (180 to 220 lb).[26] One tracking study found a series of adult females to measure from 2.7 to 3.08 m (8 ft 10 in to 10 ft 1 in) and to weigh 76 to 103 kg (168 to 227 lb).[37] Yet another study found adult females averaged 2.97 m (9 ft 9 in).[30] The largest female on record measured about 4.2 m (13 ft 9 in).[22]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Saltwater crocodile jumping up at Adelaide River
Video of a jumping crocodile at Adelaide River
Saltwater crocodile sunning itself
Estuarine Crocodile tracks in East Timor
Large crocodile in park

The saltwater crocodile is one of the three crocodilians found in India, the other two being the more widespread, smaller mugger crocodile and the narrow-snouted, fish-eating gharial.[38] Apart from the eastern coast of India, the saltwater crocodile is extremely rare on the Indian subcontinent. A huge population, consisting of many large adults, several over 6 m (20 ft), including a 7-m (23-ft) male, is present within the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary of Odisha and they are known to be present in smaller numbers throughout the Indian and Bangladeshi portions of the Sundarbans. Populations are also present within the mangrove forests and other coastal areas of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in India. Saltwater crocodiles were once present throughout most of the island of Sri Lanka, but remain mostly within protected areas such as Yala National Park, which also has a large population of mugger crocodiles.

In northern Australia (which includes the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and Queensland), the saltwater crocodile is thriving, particularly in the multiple river systems near Darwin (such as the Adelaide, Mary, and Daly Rivers, along with their adjacent billabongs and estuaries), where large individuals of more than 5 m (16 ft 5 in) in length are not uncommon. The saltwater crocodile population in Australia is estimated at 100,000 to 200,000 adults. In Australia, the species coexists with the smaller, narrow-snouted Johnston's or freshwater crocodile. Their range extends from Broome in Western Australia through the entire Northern Territory coast all the way south to Rockhampton in Queensland. The Alligator Rivers in the Arnhem Land region are misnamed due to the resemblance of the saltwater crocodile to alligators as compared to freshwater crocodiles, which also inhabit the Northern Territory.[39] In New Guinea, they are also common, existing within the coastal reaches of virtually every river system in the country, such as the Fly River, along with all estuaries and mangroves, where they overlap in range with the rarer, less aggressive New Guinea crocodile. They are also present in varying numbers throughout the Bismarck Archipelago, the Kai Islands, the Aru Islands, the Maluku Islands and many other islands within the region, including Timor, and most islands within the Torres Strait.

The saltwater crocodile was historically known to be widespread throughout Southeast Asia, but is now extinct throughout much of this range. This species has not been reported in the wild for decades in most of Indochina and is extinct in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and possibly Cambodia. The status of this species is critical within much of Myanmar, but a stable population of many large adults is present in the Irrawaddy Delta.[40] Probably, the only country in Indochina still harbouring wild populations of this species is Myanmar. Although saltwater crocodiles were once very common in the Mekong Delta (from where they disappeared in the 1980s) and other river systems, the future of this species in Indochina is now looking grim. However, it is also the least likely of crocodilians to become globally extinct due to its wide distribution and almost precolonial population sizes in Northern Australia and New Guinea.

The saltwater crocodile has been long extinct in China, where it inhabited the southern coastal areas from Fujian province in the north to the border of Vietnam. References to large crocodiles that preyed on both humans and livestock appeared during the Han and Song Dynasties, where it occurred in the lower Pearl River near present day Hong Kong and Macau, the Han River, the Min River in the north, portions of coastal Guangxi province and Hainan Island. The presence of crocodiles in Fujian province represent the northernmost distribution of the species.[41]

The population is sporadic in Indonesia and Malaysia, with some areas harbouring large populations (Borneo and Sumatra, for example) and others with very small, at-risk populations (e.g., Peninsular Malaysia). Despite the close proximity to the crocodile hotbed of northern Australia, crocodiles no longer exist in Bali. This species is also reportedly extinct on Lombok, Komodo, and most of Java. A small population may remain within Ujung Kulon National Park in western Java. The saltwater crocodile is also present in very limited parts of the South Pacific, with an average population in the Solomon Islands, a very small and soon to be extinct population in Vanuatu (where the population officially stands at only three) and a decent but at-risk population (which may be rebounding) in Palau. They once ranged as far west as the east coast of Africa to the Seychelles Islands. These crocodiles were once believed to be a population of Nile crocodiles, but they were later proven to be C. porosus.[2]

On a beach in Darwin, Australia

Because of its tendency to travel very long distances at sea, individual saltwater crocodiles have been known to occasionally appear in areas far away from their general range. Vagrant individuals have historically been reported on New Caledonia, Iwo Jima, Fiji, and even in the relatively frigid Sea of Japan (thousands of miles from their native territory.) In late 2008-early 2009, a handful of wild saltwater crocodiles were verified to be living within the river systems of Fraser Island, hundreds of kilometres from, and in much cooler water than, their normal Queensland range. These crocodiles did indeed migrate south to the island from northern Queensland during the warmer wet season and presumably returned to the north upon the seasonal temperature drop. Despite the surprise and shock within the Fraser Island public, this is apparently not new behaviour, and in the distant past, wild crocodiles had been reported occasionally appearing as far south as Brisbane during the warmer wet season.

Saltwater crocodiles generally spend the tropical wet season in freshwater swamps and rivers, moving downstream to estuaries in the dry season, and sometimes travelling far out to sea. Crocodiles compete fiercely with each other for territory, with dominant males in particular occupying the most eligible stretches of freshwater creeks and streams. Junior crocodiles are thus forced into the more marginal river systems and sometimes into the ocean. This explains the large distribution of the animal (ranging from the east coast of India to northern Australia), as well as its being found in the odd places on occasion (such as the Sea of Japan). Like all crocodiles, they can survive for prolonged periods only in warm temperatures, and crocodiles seasonally vacate parts of Australia if cold spells hit.[6]

Biology and behaviour[edit]

A saltwater crocodile off Maconacon

The primary behaviour to distinguish the saltwater crocodile from other crocodiles is its tendency to occupy salt water. Though other crocodiles also have salt glands that enable them to survive in saltwater, a trait which alligators do not possess, most other species do not venture out to sea except during extreme conditions. The only other species to display regular seagoing behaviour is the American crocodile, but the American version is still not considered to be as marine-prone as the saltwater crocodile. As its alternate name "sea-going crocodile" implies, this species travels between areas separated by sea, or simply relies on the relative ease of travelling through water in order to circumvent long distances on the same land mass, such as Australia. In a similar fashion to migratory birds using thermal columns, saltwater crocodiles use ocean currents to travel long distances.[42] In a study, 20 crocodiles were tagged with satellite transmitters; 8 of these crocodiles ventured out into open ocean, in which one of them travelled 590 km (370 mi) in 25 days. Another specimen, a 4.84-m-long male, travelled 411 km (255 mi) in 20 days. Without having to move around much, sometimes simply by floating, the current-riding behaviour allows for the conservation of energy. They will even interrupt their travels, residing in sheltered bays for a few days, when the current is against the desired direction of travel, until the current changes direction.[42] Crocodiles also travel up and down in river systems, periodically.[42]

While most crocodilians are social animals sharing basking spots and food, saltwater crocodiles are more territorial and are less tolerant of their own kind; adult males will share territory with females, but drive off rival males. Saltwater crocodiles mate in the wet season, laying eggs in a nest consisting of a mound of mud and vegetation. The female guards the nest and hatchlings from predators.

Generally very lethargic, a trait which helps it survive months at a time without food, the saltwater crocodile will usually loiter in the water or bask in the sun during much of the day, preferring to hunt at night. A study of seasonal saltwater crocodile behaviour in Australia indicated that they are more active and more likely to spend time in the water during the Australian summer; conversely, they are less active and spend relatively more time basking in the sun during the winter.[43] Saltwater crocodiles, however, are among the most active of all crocodilians, spending more time cruising and active, especially in water. They are much less terrestrial than most species of crocodiles, spending less time on land except for basking. At times, they tend to spend weeks at sea in search of land and in some cases, barnacles have been observed growing on crocodile scales, indicative of the long periods they spend at sea.[44]

Saltwater crocodile with a GPS-based satellite transmitter attached to its head for tracking

Despite their relative lethargy, saltwater crocodiles are agile predators and display surprising agility and speed when necessary, usually during strikes at prey. They are capable of explosive bursts of speed when launching an attack from the water. They can also swim at 15 to 18 mph (24 to 29 km/h) in short bursts, around three times as fast as the fastest human swimmers, but when cruising, they usually go at 2 to 3 mph (3.2 to 4.8 km/h). However, stories of crocodiles being faster than a race horse for short distances across land are little more than urban legend. At the water's edge, however, where they can combine propulsion from both feet and tail, their speed can be explosive.

While crocodilian brains are much smaller than those of mammals (as low as 0.05% of body weight in the saltwater crocodile), saltwater crocodiles are capable of learning difficult tasks with very little conditioning, learning to track the migratory route of their prey as the seasons change, and may possess a deeper communication ability than currently accepted.[45][46]

Hunting and diet[edit]

Feeding young adult in captivity, Western Australia

Like most crocodilians, saltwater crocodiles are not fastidious in their choice of food, and readily vary their prey selection according to availability, nor are they voracious, as they are able to survive on relatively little food for a prolonged period. Because of their size and distribution, saltwater crocodiles hunt the broadest range of prey species of any modern crocodilian.[6] The diet of hatchling, juvenile and subadult saltwater crocodiles has been subject to extensively greater scientific study than that of fully-grown crocodiles, in large part due to the aggression, territoriality and size of adults which make them difficult for biologists to handle without significant risk to safety. The diet of adults more likely to be based in reliable eye-witness accounts.[31][47] Hatchlings are restricted to feeding on smaller animals, such as small fish, frogs, insects and small aquatic invertebrates. In addition to these prey, juveniles also take a variety of freshwater and saltwater fish, various amphibians, crustaceans, molluscs, such as large gastropods and cephalopods, birds, small to medium-sized mammals, and other reptiles, such as snakes and lizards. When crocodiles obtain a length of more than 1.2 m (3.9 ft), the significance of small invertebrate prey fades in favor of small vertebrates including fish and smaller mammals and birds.[48] The larger the animal grows, the greater the variety of its diet, although relatively small prey are taken throughout its lifetime. Among crustacean prey, large mud crabs of the genus Scylla are frequently consumed, especially in mangrove habitats. Ground-living birds, such as the emu and different kinds of water birds, especially the magpie goose, are the most commonly preyed upon birds, due to the increased chance of encounter.[49][50] Even swift-flying birds and bats may be snatched if close to the surface of water,[6] as well as wading birds while these are patrolling the shore looking for food, even down to the size of a common sandpiper.[26][51] Mammalian prey of juveniles and subadults are usually as large as the smaller species of ungulates, such as the greater mouse-deer and hog deer. Various mammalian species including, crab-eating macaques, gibbons, porcupines, wallabies, mongoose, civets, flying foxes, hares, rodents, badgers, otters,[52] fishing cats and chevrotains are readily taken when encountered. Unlike fish, crabs and aquatic creatures, mammals and birds are usually found only sporadically in or next to water so crocodiles seem to search for places where such prey may be concentrated, i.e. the water under a tree holding a flying fox colonies or spots where herds of water buffaloes feed.[50] Studies have shown that unlike freshwater crocodiles (which can easily be killed by toads), saltwater crocodiles are partially resistant to cane toad toxins and can consume them but only in small quantities and not enough to provide effective natural control for this virulent introduced pest.[53] Large crocodiles, even the oldest males, do not ignore small species when the opportunity arises. However, larger animals are seldom attacked.

C. porosus tearing apart a pig carcass for consumption

Animals taken by adult crocodiles include deer (such as sambar, muntjac and chital), wild boar, tapirs, monkeys, kangaroos, dingos, dholes, jackals, orangutans, turtles, pythons, monitor lizards, Asian antelopes, such as serow and nilgai, and large bovines, such as banteng, water buffalo, and gaur. As a seagoing species, the saltwater crocodile also preys on a variety of saltwater bony fish and other marine animals, including sea snakes, sea turtles (which are usually taken during mating season when the turtles are closer to shore), sea birds, dugongs, rays, and bull sharks[6][54][55][56] Any type of domestic livestock, such as chicken, sheep, pigs, horses and cattle, and domesticated animals/pets may be eaten. Saltwater crocodiles are dominant over other crocodilians, regularly out-competing and occasionally killing and eating other species, as has been recorded largely with freshwater crocodiles in Australia.[2][57]

Adult water buffalo and gaur, which may weigh over a ton, are considered conventionally as the largest wild or feral prey taken by male crocodiles, few other extant crocodilians short of outsized Nile crocodile are sufficiently large, powerful and aggressive enough to attack prey this large and formidable.[22][58] It is an extremely powerful animal; in one case, a one-tonne Suffolk stallion known to haul over two tonnes was reliably observed to be pulled into water to its demise by a large male saltwater crocodile.[22] In 2011, the first confirmed report of predation of an adult tiger was reported.[59]

Adult male saltwater crocodile in captivity, Australia

As with other crocodilians, their sharp, peg-like teeth are well-suited to seize and tightly grip prey, but not designed to shear flesh. Small prey is simply swallowed whole, while larger animals are forcibly dragged into deep water and drowned.[60] Large prey is then torn into manageable pieces by "death rolling" (the spinning of the crocodile to twist off hunks of meat) or by sudden jerks of the head.[61] Occasionally, food items will be stored for later consumption once a crocodile eats its fill, although this can lead to scavenging by interlopers such as monitor lizards.[62]


Regression of mean body mass and bite force of C. porosus

Saltwater crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal today and a large saltwater crocodile can crush a full-grown bovid's skull between its jaws. A 5.2 m (17 ft)-long saltwater crocodile has been confirmed as having the highest bite force ever recorded for an animal in a laboratory setting, with a bite force value of 16,000 N (3,700 lbf) (surpassing the previous record of 13,300 N (2,980 lbf) made by a 3.9 m (13 ft)-long American alligator).[63][64] Based on the regression of mean body mass and mean bite force, the bite forces of multiple crocodile species, 6.7 m (22 ft) individuals were estimated at 6,187 lbf (27,520 N) to 7,736 lbf (34,410 N).[65] The study, led by Dr. Gregory M. Erickson, also shed light to the larger, extinct species of crocodilians. Since crocodile anatomy has changed only slightly for the last 80 million years, current data on modern crocodilians can be used to estimate the bite force of extinct species. An 11 to 12 m (36–39 ft) long Deinosuchus would apply a force of 23,100 lbf (103,000 N), twice that of the latest, higher bite force estimations of Tyrannosaurus rex.[65] The extraordinary bite of crocodilians is a result of their anatomy. The space for the jaw muscle in the skull is very large, which is easily visible from the outside as a bulge at each side. The nature of the muscle is extremely stiff, almost as hard as bone to the touch, such that it can appear to be the continuum of the skull. Another trait is that most of the muscle in a crocodile's jaw is arranged for clamping down. Despite the strong muscles to close the jaw, crocodiles have extremely small and weak muscles to open the jaw. The jaws of a crocodile can be securely shut with several layers of duct tape.


Hatchling in an aquarium, bred in captivity
Young saltwater crocodiles

Saltwater crocodiles mate in the wet season, when water levels are at their highest. In Australia, the male and female engage in courtship in September and October, and the female lays eggs between November and March. The female selects the nesting site, and both parents will defend the nesting territory, which is typically a stretch of shore along tidal rivers or freshwater areas. The nest is a mound of mud and vegetation, usually measuring 175 cm (69 in) long and 53 cm (21 in) high. The female typically lays from 40 to 60 eggs, but some clutches have included up to 90. The eggs measure on average 8 by 5 cm (3.1 by 2.0 in) and weigh 113 g (4.0 oz) on average. These are relatively small, as the average female saltwater crocodile weighs around five times as much as a freshwater crocodile, but lays eggs that are only about 20% larger in measurement and 40% heavier than those of the smaller species.[26] Although the female guards the nest for 80 to 98 days, the loss of eggs is often high due to flooding and occasionally to predation. As in all crocodilians, the sex of the hatchlings is determined by temperature, with relatively low temperatures producing mainly females, and high temperatures producing mainly males. In Australia, goannas commonly eat freshwater crocodile eggs (feeding on up to 95% of clutch if discovered), but are relatively unlikely to eat saltwater crocodile eggs due to the vigilance of the imposing mother.[26]

As in all crocodilian species, the female saltwater crocodile exhibits a remarkable level of maternal care for a reptile. She excavates the nest in response to "yelping" calls from the hatchlings, and even gently rolls eggs in her mouth to assist hatching. The female will then carry the hatchlings to water in her mouth (as Nile crocodile and American alligator females have been observed doing when their eggs hatch) and remains with the young for several months. Despite her diligence, losses of baby crocodiles are heavy due to various predators and unrelated crocodiles of their own species. Only approximately 1% of the hatchlings will survive to adulthood.[66] By crocodilian standards, saltwater crocodile hatchlings are exceptionally aggressive to one anothern and will often fight almost immediately after being transported to water by their mother.[67] The young naturally start to disperse after around 8 months, and start to exhibit territorial behaviour at around 2.5-year-old. However, even females will not reach proper sexual maturity for another 10 years. Saltwater crocodiles that survive to adulthood can attain a very long lifespan, with a life expectancy upwards of 70 years, and some individuals may exceed 100 years.[24][68] While adults have no natural predators aside from humans, baby saltwater crocodiles may fall prey to monitor lizards, predatory fish, various aquatic and raptorial birds, larger crocodiles, and many other predators. Juveniles may also fall prey to tigers and leopards in certain parts of their range, although encounters between these predators are rare and cats are likely to avoid areas with saltwater crocodiles.

Conservation status[edit]

Saltwater crocodile

In addition to being hunted for its meat and eggs, the saltwater crocodile has the most commercially valuable skin of any crocodilian; and unregulated hunting during the 20th century caused a dramatic decline in the species throughout its range, with the population in northern Australia reduced 95% by 1971. The species currently has full legal protection in all Australian states and territories where it is found – Western Australia (since 1970), Northern Territory (since 1971) and Queensland (since 1974).[69] Illegal hunting still persists in some areas, with protection in some countries being grossly ineffective, and trade is often difficult to monitor and control over such a vast range. Despite this, the species has made a dramatic recovery in recent decades. Because of its resurgence, the species is considered of minimal concern for extinction. Currently, the species is listed in CITES as follows:

  • Appendix I (prohibiting all commercial trade in the species or its byproducts): All wild populations except for those of Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea
  • Appendix II (commercial trade allowed with export permit; import permits may or may not be required depending on the laws of the importing country): Australia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea wild populations, plus all worldwide populations bred in captivity for commercial purposes

Habitat loss continues to be a major problem. In northern Australia, much of the nesting habitat of the saltwater crocodile is susceptible to trampling by feral water buffalo, although buffalo eradication programs have now reduced this problem considerably. Even where large areas of suitable habitat remain, subtle habitat alterations can be a problem, such as in the Andaman Islands, where freshwater areas, used for nesting, are being increasingly converted to human agriculture. After the commercial value of crocodile skins waned, perhaps the greatest immediate challenge to implementing conservation efforts has been the occasional danger the species can be to humans and the resulting negative view of the crocodile.[66]

Relationship with humans[edit]

Attacks on humans[edit]

Saltwater crocodiles have a strong tendency to treat humans in their territory as prey, and have a long history of attacking humans who unknowingly stray into their territory. As a result of their power, intimidating size and speed, survival of a direct predatory attack is unlikely if the crocodile is able to make direct contact. In distinct contrast to the American policy of encouraging a certain degree of habitat coexistence with alligators, the only recommended policy for dealing with saltwater crocodiles is to avoid their territory whenever possible, as they tend to be highly aggressive when encroached upon.[15]

No Swimming sign from the Kakadu National Park.

Exact data on attacks are limited outside Australia, where one or two fatal attacks are reported per year.[70] The low level of attacks may be due to extensive efforts by wildlife officials in Australia to post crocodile warning signs at numerous at-risk billabongs, rivers, lakes and beaches.[71] In the large Aboriginal community of Arnhem Land, attacks frequently go unreported. Also, recent, less-publicised attacks have been reported in Borneo,[72] Sumatra,[73] Eastern India (Andaman Islands),[74][75] and Burma.[76] In the Northern Territory in Australia, attempts have made to relocate saltwater crocodiles who've displayed aggressive behaviour towards humans but these have proven ineffective as the problem crocodiles are apparently able to find their way back towards their original territories.[77]

Many attacks in areas outside Australia are believed to go unreported, with one study positing up to 20 to 30 attacks occur every year. Some attacks appear to be territorial rather than predatory in nature, with crocodiles over two years in age often attacking anything that comes into their area (including boats). Humans can usually escape alive from such encounters, which comprise about half of all attacks. Non-fatal attacks usually involve crocodiles of 3 m (9 ft 10 in) or less in length. Fatal attacks, most likely predatory in nature, commonly involve larger crocodiles with an average estimated size of 4.3 m (14 ft 1 in). Under normal circumstances, Nile crocodiles are believed to be responsible for a considerably greater number of fatal attacks on humans than saltwater crocodiles. This is most likely because of the plethora of people in Africa who rely on riparian areas for their livelihood, which is less prevalent in most of Asia and certainly less so in Australia.[78]

During the Japanese retreat in the Battle of Ramree Island on 19 February 1945, saltwater crocodiles may have been responsible for the deaths of over 400 Japanese soldiers. British soldiers encircled the swampland through which the Japanese were retreating, condemning the Japanese to a night in the mangroves, which were home to thousands of saltwater crocodiles. Many Japanese soldiers did not survive this night, but their death mainly as a result of crocodile attacks has been doubted.[79] Another notorious crocodile attack was in 1985, on ecofeminist Val Plumwood, who survived the attack.[80][81]

Cultural references[edit]

1948 postage stamp depicting an aboriginal artwork of the saltwater crocodile

According to Wondjina, the mythology of Indigenous Australians, the saltwater crocodile was banished from the fresh water for becoming full of bad spirits and growing too large, unlike the freshwater crocodile, which was somewhat revered.[82] As such, Aboriginal rock art depicting the saltwater crocodile is rare, although examples of up to 3,000 years old can be found in caves in Kakadu and Arnhem land, roughly matching the species distribution. The species is frequently depicted in contemporary aboriginal art.

The species is featured on several postage stamps, including an 1894 State of North Borneo 12-cent stamp; a 1948 Australian 2 shilling stamp depicting an aboriginal rock artwork of the species; a 1966 Republic of Indonesia stamp; a 1994 Palau 20-cent stamp; a 1997 Australian 22-cent stamp; and a 2005 1 Malaysian ringgit postage stamp.

The species has featured in contemporary Australian film and television including the Crocodile Dundee series of film and The Crocodile Hunter television series. There are now several saltwater crocodile-themed parks in Australia.

The crocodile is considered to be holy on Timor. According to legend, the island was formed by a giant crocodile.

Examples of large crocodiles[edit]

Currently, the salwater crocodile is the only extant crocodilian scientifically verified to exceed 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in). Although several other species, including the Nile, Orinoco and American crocodiles as well as black caimans and gharials are also claimed to reach or exceed such a length, these are based on old hunting records (although some of these are considered authentic per Guinness Records), ancedotes or are projection from remaining skull lengths and, unlike the saltwater crocodile, lengths in excess of 5 m (16 ft 5 in) are considered exceptional rather than occasional.[22][19][24] However, the largest size recorded for a saltwater crocodile is the subject of considerable controversy. The reason behind unverified sizes is either the case of insufficient/inconclusive data or exaggeration from the hunter's point of view. This section is dedicated to examples of the largest saltwater crocodiles recorded by any individual, amateur or professional, with the aim of satisfying the public interest without creating data pollution. While some of these may have been accurately measured, the lack of skulls, skins or detailed scientific examination places most outsized saltwater crocodiles as unverified and as merely ancedotal.[19] Only a small handful of crocodiles have been measured accurately via scientifically verified methods as exceeding 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in), as perhaps some hunters who've killed outsized crocodiles have measured "along the curves" (conforming to the body rather than in a straight line) which falsely boosts the length or with a partially curved tail which can take up to nearly a foot off the actual total length.[24] Many giants have had their sizes estimated based upon skull length and even these can be made in error, unlike some other crocodilians, the saltwater crocodile is relatively long-tailed so the ratio of skull length to total length is more accurate at 1:9 (i.e. the overall length is 9 times the skull length) rather than 1:7, also the mandibular part of the jaw may be taken as the skull length but this is inaccurate as it always greater than the actual (upper) skull length and falsely boasts the projected total length.[19] Below, in descending order starting from the largest, are some examples of large crocodiles, confirmed or unconfirmed, recorded throughout history.

  • James R. Montgomery, who ran a plantation near to the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands in Borneo from 1926 to 1932, claimed to have netted, killed, and examined numerous crocodiles well over 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in) there, including a specimen he claims measured 10 m (32 ft 10 in). However, no one scientifically confirmed any of Montgomery's specimens and no voucher specimens are known.[22]
Lolong, the largest live-caught saltwater crocodile
  • A crocodile shot in the Bay of Bengal in 1840 was reported at 10 m (32 ft 10 in). This specimen is unconfirmed and no voucher remains are known.[22]
  • A crocodile shot in Queensland in 1957, nicknamed Kris the croc, was reported to be 8.63 m (28 ft 4 in) long, but no verified measurements were made and no remains of this crocodile exist.[83][84] A "replica" of this crocodile has been made as a tourist attraction.[85][86][87]
  • The skull of crocodile shot in Odisha, India,[88] was claimed to measure 7.6 m (24 ft 11 in) in life, but when given scholarly examination, was thought to have come from a crocodile of a length no greater than 7 m (23 ft 0 in).[89]
  • A reported 7.6-m crocodile was killed in the Hooghly River in the Alipore District of Calcutta. However, examinations of the animal's skull actually indicated it ranged from 6.0 to 6.7 m (19 ft 8 in–22 ft 0 in).[22]
  • In 2006, Guinness accepted a 7.1 m (23 ft 4 in), 2,000-kg (4,400-lb) male saltwater crocodile living within Bhitarkanika Park in Odisha. In addition, this region may contain up to four other specimens would may reportedly measure in the range of 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in) or more.[34][88]
  • The record size for a crocodile from Papua New Guinea to be considered authentic by Guinness was a 6.32 m (20 ft 9 in) specimen shot in May 1966 along the northeastern coast. This specimen had a belly girth of 2.74 m (9 ft 0 in)[22]
  • Another seemingly authentic notable New Guinea giant, which drowned after entanglement in a fisherman's net in 1979, measured 6.2 m (20 ft 4 in), with a skull length of 72 cm (28 in).[22]
  • In September 2011, a 6.17 m (20 ft 3 in) specimen was captured alive in the Philippines, making it one of the largest specimens ever reliably measured snout-to-tail. This specimen, nicknamed Lolong and weighing roughly 1,075 kg (2,370 lb), had a past as a possible man-eater and was being kept alive as an attraction in a local zoo.[90][91][92][93][94][95] Lolong died on 10 February 2013 due to stress and infection.[96] With the death of Lolong, the largest crocodilian in captivity in the world reverts to the prior record holder, a very old male named "Cassius" at the Edward River Crocodile Farm in Pormpuraaw, Queensland, who measures 5.5 m (18 ft 1 in) in length and weighs approximately 1,005 kg (2,216 lb).[36]
  • The official, authentic record length for a crocodile from Australia was 6.15 m (20 ft 2 in) for a specimen killed in the McArthur River in June 1960.[22]
  • Another confirmed Australian giant shot 16 years after that, an old male nicknamed "Big Gator" (despite actually being a crocodile, not an alligator) that was hunted and killed due to the fact that it had become a habitual predator of local cattle, was found after being shot to have measured 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in) and weighed 1,097 kilograms (2,418 lb).[22]

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External links[edit]