Habitat – rivers, estuaries, swamps, coastal seas
Niche – giant ambush predator
Favorite Food – birds and mammals
Length – up to 23 feet
Weight – the largest on record weighed more than 2,000 pounds
Status – Common
Threats – Habitat Destruction, hunting, pollution
65 million years ago, life on earth was devastated by an event called the Cretaceous Tertiary Extinction, when an asteroid the size of a city crashed into the earth. It is the reason we don’t see dinosaurs running across the earth today. But while the dinosaurs and countless other groups of organisms were wiped out, there were some animals that survived. And although they have slimmed down since their days as 50-foot giants at the time of the dinosaurs, crocodiles have changed very little in 65 years time.
And there’s one crocodile that dwarfs the others. Growing to lengths of 23 feet and weighing up to 2,000 pounds, the saltwater crocodile is the apex predator in the brackish inlets of Southeast Asia and the Pacific island chains.
Unlike other crocodiles, the saltwater crocodile swims in both freshwater and saltwater with equal preference. An opportunistic predator, it will eat whatever it can bite into. The menu includes mammals of all sizes, birds, many varieties of fish, and man. Like its cousin, the Nile Crocodile, the saltwater crocodile poses a real, though limited threat to man. Its size and aggressive disposition are not frightened by much smaller humans that often unwittingly stumble on these beasts in shallow water. As an ambush predator that lays in wait for unsuspecting prey, the strength of its attack depends on its target not even knowing it’s there.
Although it spends much of its time in the water, the saltwater crocodile’s nature requires it to take breaks on land. As a reptile, its body temperature is tied to the heat of its surroundings. If the saltwater crocodile doesn’t bask in the sun, it will become too sluggish to hunt. Thus, these crocodiles often bask at the river’s edge with their mouths open. Keeping the mouth open serves to not only prevent the animal from overheating, but also invites certain birds to feed from the scraps in the crocodile’s teeth.
Saltwater crocodiles mate in the water and the female will guard her clutch of 50-60 eggs with deadly force. Despite their fearsome nature, crocodiles are actually some of the most attentive parents of the reptile world. A saltwater crocodile mother will stay with her brood of hatchlings for the first few weeks of their lives, protecting them from predators and carrying them to and from the water in her mouth.
Although they are faring better than other crocodiles in the process of the modern age, saltwater crocodiles are still dwindling in the wild. Human development and years of hunting have cut the numbers of these animals. They survived several mass extinction events in Earth’s long past, but it is unclear whether they will survive the current one.