Study: Crocodiles able to climb trees

hand holding a crocodile
CC BY 2.0 Hafiz Issadeen

As far as discoveries go, this is a somewhat terrifying one, assuming one has a healthy respect for crocodiles on the ground: They can climb and perch in trees. And they can really climb, with researchers spotting them more than a dozen feet from the ground. While anecdotal reports have placed the reptiles in trees in Mississippi, Colombia, and along the Nile, only three references to such behavior appear in scientific literature. And so researchers set out to determine whether it was a regular practice, observing crocodilians (which includes crocs and alligators) on three continents: Australia, Africa, and North America. What they found, as reported in Herpetology Notes: Four species were identified as able to climb trees, and were spotted, in once case, as high as 13 feet above the ground—and as far as 16 feet down a branch.

Getting there meant scaling "a completely vertical bank and then [walking] amongst the branches to reach the end of the tree," wrote the team, led by University of Tennessee researcher Vladimir Dinets. Another wild observation, per Wired: Along the Nile, crocodiles were seen in the trees as often as some birds were. The crocodiles were observed climbing trees (and, in one case in Australia, trying to climb a chain-link fence) during day and night, typically in "areas where there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature," they wrote, per e! Science News. Smaller crocs could go higher and further than their larger counterparts, and all were somewhat skittish: When approached, they jumped or fell into the water. (Dinets made waves with this crocodile study last year.)

More stories on Newser:

Oldest trees grow at a scary rate

New Fossil Find One of History's Greatest

Tags: Animals