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Re: Tall Croc Tales (was Sauropod Necks As Weapons)

From: "Dann Pigdon" <dannj@alphalink.com.au>

> I've also heard that the tail swipe is the favoured method of preying on
> humans. When crocs ambush a large quadruped by the waters edge, they
> typically aim for the head. In an upright human this can be difficult.
> Rumours in Queensland have it that some crocs have taken to using the
> tail swipe specifically to hunt humans.

The idea that crocs usually aim for the head is simply not true. They
typically attack whatever is closest to their jaws, which may be a head
bending to drink, feet entering shallow water, or someone's fat arse. It's
easier to get your teeth around a snout than an arse, however, which might
prove misleading if you only see the results. But if you don't believe me,
check the documented crocodile attacks on humans in Australia. You'll find
none report "tail swiping". All survivors report the crocodile seizing them
by a limb, their body, or their head - whatever was in reach of the croc
underwater or when it breached the surface. Of those that did not survive,
witnesses describe the crocodile attacking with the head and dragging the
body underwater. And yes, there are documented attacks on the arse.

> That's what the locals say, anyway. Either they are tales told by people
> who have lived all their lives in croc country and are probably more
> familiar with day-to-day croc behaviour than some researchers... or they
> are tounge-in-cheek tales told to tourists. Who can say for sure which
> it is?

Someone with a modicum of common sense? I'll grant you that some researchers
never leave their office, museum, lab or coffee room. Such people experience
animal behaviour through the typed pages of a book or the filtered reality
of a television set. Believe me, however, there are rumours that some
researchers actually work in the field with wild animals. They're a rare
breed, but you can spot them occasionally if you visit their hunting
grounds. They are intimately familiar with the beauty of stories - that
nobody can disprove events they have not witnessed. Next time you see some
drop bears, be sure to let me know.

Crocs do attract a high percentage of inaccurate tales and exaggerations
(known to scientists as "bullshit"). As we're scientists, we have to draw
the line somewhere when there's a lack of supporting evidence. That doesn't
mean we can't change our opinions when evidence comes to light, but without
anything credible you won't get much further than an appearance on "When
Animals Attack".

> If you walk around croc country in northern Australia, you'll sometimes
> come across "the one that got away" - that is, a cow or horse carcass
> with characteristic puncture marks to the head. They are animals that
> survived an initial head-on croc attack, only to die later from their
> wounds. When you grab a large quadruped by the head, it may still have
> all four feet on the ground, and thus be capable of winning the
> tug-of-war. If a croc was desperate enough, and needed to increase the
> chance of a kill on an animal that was larger than it would usually
> take, perhaps a different tactic is called for.

Perhaps they'll whip out a .44 and shoot them in the head? Disprove that!

There are plenty of observations of "the one that got away", but what does
that tell us about tail sweeping? It doesn't prove that crocs use a
different tactic, only that sometimes they get it wrong - a flaw in any
predator. Most prey taken by crocs is small anyway, so it seems unlikely
that tactics would be developed to deal with exceptionally large prey,
especially as the croc won't fit more than a limb into its stomach. Looked
in any croc stomachs lately? You'll be surprised what you find in there.

> Go out and spend a few months (or years) in croc country. When you get
> back, we'd all be interested in what you've discovered. Go on - do it
> for science! :)

We all had a good laugh here when we read this! How many months or years
would you suggest that I spend in croc country before I become sufficiently
enlightened to hold an adult discussion with you?

I originally asked for more information on the reports you posted. Your
answers seem to indicate you don't have anything else to offer. As one of
those rare field-based croc researchers, I'm fascinated by observations on
behaviour. But as a scientist I like to know where reports are coming from,
what the circumstances surrounding them were, and whether I should treat
them as serious or not. You know, there are people who work on crocs who
don't just jump 'em and shout "Crikey! Take a look at this beauty!"

Anyway, after an enjoyable evening where my colleagues and I regaled each
other with croc stories over a few decent beers, we all agreed there was no
compelling evidence that crocs swipe prey off its feet using the tail.
However, we especially love stories from Queensland, so we're happy to
listen to any evidence you've got!

Merry Christmas!

Adam Britton