With their powerful jaws and their ability to grow up to 10 feet long, this South Asian crocodile looks like a powerful hunter. But its not just their size or their teeth that makes their hunting style so successful. It's their strategy. They're using tools.
Even here in the desert, I feel like the season is starting to turn. It's just turning very slowly. *Autumn intensifies*
The Mugger (Crocodylus palustris) is medium-sized crocodile that is found mostly in India, but also surrounding countries like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and even as far north as Iran. It's a crocodile of many names, also called the Sindhu crocodile, the Indian crocodile, marsh crocodile and Persian crocodile. The name "Mugger" is derived from the Hindu word magar, which itself comes from the Sanskrit word makara, which means "crocodile" or "mythical water monster."
Muggers have broad snouts for crocodiles, which makes them look more like alligators. Though there is sexual dimorphism between adult males and females, it's not quite as pronounced as it is in other crocodilian species. Adult males can grow up to 10 feet (3.2 meters) in body length, with females just about 2 feet shorter. Older, stronger males can be very heavily built, but the average adult will weigh around 441 pounds (200 kg), regardless of sex. Exceptionally large individuals are rare, particularly in these times, but the largest specimen ever measured was 17 feet (5.2 meters) long.
Like the American Alligator, Muggers have been observed engaging in tool-use behavior, balancing sticks and other nest-making materials on their heads in order to lure large birds close enough to grab. Their diet depends on their size and the availability of prey, but they will eat just about anything they're big enough to handle. Any animal that comes to drink from their river and marsh habitats is potentially prey, but in general it will include small mammals, fish, turtles, birds, and snakes. They will also hunt on land, but only at night, when they can employ similar ambush tactics to the ones they use in the water.
Muggers are much more social than other crocodilian species, tolerating each other's presence and communicating with body language and a range of audible signals. Mating season occurs between February and April, and gravid females will lay a clutch of about 10 to 48 eggs in a nesting site that she will use every year for the rest of her life. The incubation period lasts from 55 to 75 days, and when the hatchlings emerge from the nest, they are carried to the water by one or both of its parents.
Muggers were brought to the edge of extinction in the 1950s and 1960s due to being hunted for their skin, and while they have made a recovery in population they are still under threat from habitat destruction. Captive breeding programs have helped to re-stock the wild populations, and wild Muggers are protected in India. This has led to calls for the captive breeding programs to end.
Source for all images used in this post.