As if crocodiles and their kin needed further testament to their ferocity, now comes word that they may even know how to hunt together to take down their prey.
New research out of the University of Tennessee took advantage of the reach of social media to gather eyewitness accounts worldwide of crocodile and alligator predatory behavior. A research assistant in the university's psychology department, Vladimir Dinets, took that unusual course thanks to the crocodile's natural tendency to work the night shift, in out of the way places, eating infrequently -- all of which make it difficult for any behavioral research to be performed on it in the wild.
Dinets used Facebook and other social media outlets to collect the firsthand accounts, combining them with other science diaries -- some dating back to the 1800s -- and more than 3,000 hours of his own observations.
From Dinets' analysis of the accounts, a picture emerged -- consistent across accounts and the span of centuries -- of the giant-jawed creatures coordinating and collaborating on their attacks.
For example, alligators, Dinets found, arranged a sort of hunting party, teaming to drive fish into shallower waters where other alligators were ready to keep them from escaping. In another account, a crocodile frightened a pig into running headlong into a lagoon -- right into the maws of two smaller crocodiles waiting to pounce on a meal delivered to their home like a call-out pizza.
"All these observations indicate that crocodilians might belong to a very select club of hunters -- just 20 or so species of animals, including humans -- capable of coordinating their actions in sophisticated ways and assuming different roles according to each individual's abilities," said Dinets in a release. "In fact, they might be second only to humans in their hunting prowess," he added.
One cautionary note from the researcher is that all of those social media accounts and thousands of hours of independent research produced just a handful of useful eyewitness accounts. More accounts are needed in order to firm up our understanding of these hunting teamwork behaviors. "And these observations don't come easily," Dinets said.
Dinets' research has been published in the journal Ethology Ecology and Evolution.