Not long ago I wrote a piece about new research which appears to prove that T. rex was a playful dinosaur. (If you're interested, the rather academic source article is here.) So if Tyrannosaurs could play, why then not crocodiles?
An article in the publication Animal Behavior and Cognition by Vladimir Dinets says that that not only do crocs frolic, but also that the scientific community has long known this but appears to have been too embarrassed to publish their observations. The article, Play Behavior in Crocodilians, documents what has been seen in various species of this group of semi-aquatic predatory reptiles (made up of crocodiles, alligators, caimans, gavials and false gavials).
Professor Dinets has been studying crocs for more than a decade and reports what he, as well as others who have worked with them, have apparently long observed. This includes crocs riding the waves, nosing wooden balls around, play snapping at running water (I've had dogs who do that), even wrestling playfully with other animals who might normally be thought of as snacks.
The article (found here) includes two oddly adorable photographs of two rather imposing animals (one a Cuban crocodile, the other a West African dwarf crocodile) each in separate enclosures thousands of miles apart, each gingerly holding in those impressive jaws a bougainvillea flower by the stem. The author notes that in both instances "there was a variety of other small objects floating in the pools (small green and yellow dry leaves and white flower petals in Zoo Miami; yellow dry leaves with white egret feathers of varying size in Madras Crocodile Bank), but these objects were completely ignored. Anecdotal observations suggest that crocodilians are generally attracted to small, pink objects..." Who isn't?
I have a three-inch scar on my right forearm from when a caiman (a horribly ignored exotic "pet" I was involved in rescuing) tried to separate that part of my limb from the rest of my body. The scar is now decades old but the memory is fresh, so I'm not about to turn these remarkable and ancient predators into something out of Disney's Fantasia. That said, there is something quite wonderful in learning that playful behavior is part of the natural makeup of these animals most of us find terrifying.
Animals. We are all different, and we are also all alike.
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