A new study has revealed the fun-loving side of crocodiles; the reptiles, generally regarded as ferocious and aggressive, are reported to surf waves, play ball and engage in piggyback rides to have fun.
Vladimir Dinets of the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has spent a decade studying the behavior of crocodiles, evaluating their habits and noting playful interactions between the species, and even with humans. The study has been published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition and shows that even beasts sometimes like to have fun.
“Many aspects of crocodilian behavior remain poorly known due to their rare occurrence and to the difficulty of observing predominantly nocturnal predators. In the case of play, an additional problem appears to be that people witnessing such behavior consider their observations unworthy of publishing or unlikely to be taken seriously.”
Crocodile playful interactions are actually quite complex – including locomotor play, object play and social play. Crocs like to engage in playing with others or with objects more often than being social. Playful behavior has been observed previously, though it wasn’t interpreted accurately.
“In many cases this behavior appears to be accidental, but on two occasions I have seen crocodilians doing this in a manner strongly suggesting play. In both cases, the objects were pink Bougainvillea flowers that were floating in the pools where the animals were kept captive.”
In several instances, he actually observed crocodiles playing with humans. He details one such episode:
“The crocodile would swim with his human friend, try to startle him by suddenly pretending to attack him or by sneaking up on him from behind, and accept being caressed, hugged, rotated in the water and kissed on the snout.”
His research seems to suggest that crocodiles may be much more affectionate than previously thought, and can even harbor feelings towards humans.
“A man who rescued a crocodile that had been shot in the head became close friends with the animal. They happily played every day until the crocodile’s death 20 years later”.
Crocodiles evolved 55 million years ago and have been a top predator ever since. Our knowledge and understanding of them is still quite lackluster, because they dangerous and often find in remote areas. This paper shows a side of them we are just starting to discover – and there are likely others as well.
“Play behavior in crocodilians is not uncommon, but it remains virtually undescribed in scientific literature. I present the first overview of play behavior of three types (locomotor play, object play and social play) in crocodilians based on original observations, published reports and anecdotal evidence”, the paper’s abstract reads.