How have alligators and crocodiles survived for millions of years? By being smarter than they look. A study has revealed that alligators and crocodiles have been observed cleverly using tools to lure prey in close enough for a chomp. Researchers have found that during bird nesting season, the reptiles will rest with sticks on their heads and snouts, luring in birds who notice the branches as a tempting perch or as nest-building material. When they come in close, well, they're dinner.
LiveScience reports that the behavior has been witnessed among American alligators in Louisiana and mugger crocodiles in India.
"Alligators only engaged in this trickery during the nesting season and in areas where birds nested, said Vladimir Dinets, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Tennessee Knoxville. During nesting season, there's often a shortage of sticks in marshy areas where these reptiles and birds overlap, and birds sometimes even fight amongst themselves to procure sticks to build nests. The study, which Dinets co-authored and which was published in late November in the journal Ethology Ecology & Evolution, suggests that there is no other explanation for this behavior than as one of tool use."
The study shows that not only have alligators and crocodiles figured out that birds like sticks, but that they also observe the bird behavior and assess at what time of year the trickery will be effective, since they only try this strategy during nesting season. Basically, they're a lot smarter than we typically give them credit for.
Other animals that have surprised us with their use of tools include the blackspot tuskfish, the first fish documented using a tool to help it feed. And the octopus has become the first invertebrate documented using tools, when one was found using a coconut shell as a mobile home.