Crocodiles can climb trees, study finds

BY Joshua Barajas  February 15, 2014 at 10:29 AM EDT
Photo by Flickr user  Ravi Jandhyala

Crocodiles: no longer only a threat on the ground. Photo by Flickr user Ravi Jandhyala

Despite the fact they lack the physical adaptations of a climber, crocodiles can climb trees and do it regularly, a new study in Herpetology Notes finds.

After studying five crocodilian species on Africa, Australia and North America, the team found that the reptiles can climb as high as six feet off the ground. Juveniles have been spotted as high as 30 feet. Combined with anecdotal evidence in these areas, the researchers found that the smaller crocodiles were able to vertically scale trees, while their larger counterparts relied on angled branches.

The team concludes that tree-climbing ability allows the cold-blooded species to regulate their body temperature — bask in the sun — and keep tabs of their surroundings. The researchers observed that the crocodiles were “skittish,” fleeing from their heights if observers approached too closely.

Researchers involved with study noted that people who have lived near crocodile territories have known about this ability for decades, but it has been a seldom studied behavior until now. The team traced early documentation of the reptiles’ tree-climbing back to 1972 when it was briefly noted that baby crocodiles could “climb into bushes, up trees and even hang on reeds like chameleons.”

These findings follow a December report that revealed two crocodilian species that camouflaged their snout with twigs to lure unsuspecting prey.