Endowed with natural armor and 6-inch teeth, they hide, deathly still, in dense underbrush waiting for their prey. No problem – just watch where you step. But now a University of Tennessee study has found that the reptiles can climb and perch in trees as far as the crowns. Vladimir Dinets, a research assistant professor in the Department of Psychology, is the first to thoroughly study the tree-climbing and -basking behavior.
According to Science Daily:
“Dinets and his colleagues observed crocodilian species on three continents — Australia, Africa and North America — and examined previous studies and anecdotal observations. They found that four species climbed trees — usually above water — but how far they ventured upward and outward varied by their sizes. The smaller crocodilians were able to climb higher and further than the larger ones. Some species were observed climbing as far as four meters high in a tree and five meters down a branch.”
Thankfully, their research also noted that the perched creatures were skittish and would usually drop (or fall) into the water when approached. This lead researchers to theorize that the tree-perching behavior was used to regulate their body temperature and as a sneaky surveillance method.
“The most frequent observations of tree-basking were in areas where there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature. Likewise, their wary nature suggests that climbing leads to improved site surveillance of potential threats and prey.”