Listen to part of a lecture in a biology class.
OK, for today, let’s look at a reptile— a predator—that hasn’t evolved much in the last 70 million years.
No discussion of reptiles would be complete without some mention of crocodiles.
Now, we tend to think of crocodiles as uh, kind of solitary… hiding out in a swamp, kind of mysterious creatures...
But we’re finding out that they aren’t as isolated as they seem.
In fact, crocodiles interact with each other in a variety of ways.
One way is with vocalizations… you know, sounds generated by the animal.
This is true of the whole crocodile family which includes crocodiles themselves, alligators, etc…
Take American alligators. If you were to go to a swamp during the breeding season, you’d hear a chorus of sounds. Deep grunts, hisses…
These are sounds that male alligators make, and some of them are powerful enough to make the water vibrate.
This sends a strong “go away” message to the other males, so the alligator can focus on sending other sound waves through the water… sound waves that you and I couldn’t even hear since they’re such low frequency.
But they do reach the female alligator, who then goes to find, and mate with, the male.
Vocalization is, um, well, it’s used for other reasons… like getting attention or dis—ah, letting others know that you’re distressed.
Ah, let’s see… newborn crocodiles, or hatchlings, and their interactions with their mother.
When they’re born, croc-baby crocodiles have a sort of muffled cry while they’re in their nest.
Hatchlings are really vulnerable— especially to birds and small mammals—when they’re born, but their mother, who’s been keeping vigil nearby, hears their cry for help and carries them to safety… meaning, to water.
So, she takes them out of the nest, ah, um, all the eggs hatch at once, so she has about 40 newborns to look after.
She takes about 15 out of the nest at a time, carrying them in her mouth to the nearby water.
While she’s taking one load of hatchlings, the others wait for her to come back, but do you think they’re quiet about it?
They’re clamoring for the mother’s attention, sort of squeaking, and practically saying, “Don’t forget about me!”
I heard some great examples of this on a television program on crocodiles last week… anyone catch it?
It had a few interesting bits, but you know…[concerned] uh, you have to be careful, think critically.
Sometimes I don’t know where these shows find their [sarcastically] “experts.”
Excuse me. But um,does all that crying defeat the purpose? I mean, doesn’t it… attract more predators?
[thinking]Hmm, good question.
I guess—well, I’m guessing that once the babies have the mother’s attention, they’re safe.
She’s never too far away, an-and I think— I mean, would you mess with a mother crocodile?
So, after the mother transports all the youngsters, they still call to each other, and to their mother.
This communication continues right through to adulthood.
Crocodiles have about 18 different sounds that they can make.
There’s—uh, uh, you have deep grunting sounds, hisses, growls,squeaks, roars…
So, there are many different sounds to interact or send messages.
This is more typical of mammals than of reptiles…
I mean, crocodiles’ brains are the most developed of any reptile… in that sense, they’re closer to mammals’ brains than other reptiles’ brains.
And we know that mammals… ah, well dogs, for example… dogs vocalize many different sounds.
Crocodiles have a similar level of, ah, vocal sophistication, if you will— which makes them unique among reptiles.
Another thing would be, ah, if a hatchling gets separated from the rest of its family. Once the others get far enough away, its survival instinct kicks in.
It’ll make a loud distress call, which its siblings answer… it calls again, and they continue calling back and forth until they all find each other again.
Another thing, something that wasn’t on that TV show I mentioned— ah, mother crocodiles lead their young from one area to another, like when they have to find a different source of water.
Usually she’ll lead them at night, when it’s safer for them, moving ahead and then letting out calls of reassurance so that they’ll follow her.
Her voice helps give the babies the courage they need to leave the area and go someplace that’s a more desirable home for them.