World’s oldest crocodile dies

This video from the USA says about itself:

The American Crocodile: Waterways

8 June 2013

They’ve been around since the dinosaurs and are certainly as scary as T-Rex (not the band), the American Crocodile has consistently lost habitat, and decreased in numbers. Follow the decades long research and work to save this wonderful, toothy creature.

Translated from NOS TV in the Netherlands:

Rotterdam Zoo mourns after death of the ‘oldest crocodile in the world’

Today, 11:50

In Blijdorp Zoo crocodile Hakuna has died. According to the zoo, he was probably the oldest crocodile in a zoo in the world. How old Hakuna was exactly is not known, but he came to the park in 1930 and was already an adult. He must have been certainly over 85 years.

The zoo has announced the death of Hakuna on Facebook.

Hakuna came along with his female partner Matata to Rotterdam Zoo. They were a gift from singer and actress Josephine Baker. Matata died last year. The two American crocodiles were among the few animals in the zoo which survived the bombing of Rotterdam [by Hitler’s air force] in 1940.

See also here.

Crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls

This video is called Biology documentary on Crocodiles.

From Wildlife Extra:

Research reveals crocodiles enjoy sliding, surfing and playing with balls

Fancy a game of something?

A research assistant professor in psychology at the University of Tennessee, Vladimir Dinets, who has been studying crocodiles and alligators for 10 years, has revealed that they enjoy playing with objects, as well as other animals and fellow crocodilians.

Alongside his own observations of crocs displaying play-like behaviours in surfing waves, tossing balls and giving each other piggyback rides, he conducted an informal survey of groups on social media and attendees at conferences who were interested in crocodiles.

His results show a gentler aspect than is usually associated with these predators. They are seen to engage in all three main types of play identified by behaviour specialists as locomotor play, play with objects, and social play.

Play with objects was reported most often. Crocs have been seen playing with wooden balls, noisy ceramic items, streams of water, their prey, and debris floating on the surface of the water.

Cases of locomotor play include young alligators repeatedly sliding down slopes, crocodiles surfing waves and caimans riding currents of water in their pools.

Observed cases of social play include baby alligators riding on older animals’ backs, baby caimans playfully “courting” each other, and a male crocodile giving his lifetime mate rides on his back.

Crocodiles have also been seen playing with other animals. Dinets observed a juvenile alligator playing with a river otter.

In rare cases, individual crocodilians have even been known to bond closely and enjoy the company of people. There is a story of a man who saved a crocodile that had been shot and the two played together for 20 years.

“The croc would swim with his human friend, try to startle him by suddenly pretending to attack him or by sneaking up on him from behind, and accept being caressed, hugged, rotated in the water and kissed on the snout,” says Dinets.

His work, published in the journal Animal Behavior and Cognition, is the first study of play in crocodiles from a scientific basis. The full study can be viewed here.

Dinets’ research builds on the work of colleague Gordon Burghardt, a professor in the Department of Psychology and the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, whose work defined “play” in connection with a species not previously thought capable of play.

Dinets’ work provides further evidence that play is a universal feature of “intelligent” animals, with complex, flexible behaviour.

He believes that providing crocodiles in captivity with amusements and objects to play with will give them happier, healthier lives.

The finding of this research may contribute to the knowledge of how intelligence evolves and what is needed for its development.

Previous research by Dinets discovered that crocodiles are able to climb trees, work as a team and use lures such as sticks to hunt prey. More of his crocodile research can be found in his book Dragon Songs.

Saving crocodiles in Burundi

This is a video about Nile crocodiles.

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

One man’s bid to save Burundi’s crocodiles from the cooking pot

In Burundi’s capital, Albert Ngendera has turned his home into a refuge to save the country’s declining crocodiles from being snapped up for dinner. But with 45 babies due in January, the crocs will soon outgrow their home

Hannah McNeish in Bujumbura

Wednesday 31 December 2014 16.07 GMT

People in Burundi are keen to tell you that it’s famous for having the largest fresh water crocodiles on Earth, reticent to admit they’ve eaten a few and sad to say that they have disappeared from the shores of Lake Tanganyika and are clearing out of the Ruzizi river due to over-poaching.

In one of the world’s poorest countries and Africa’s hungriest, crocodiles were munched and pillaged during a 12-year civil war that ended in 2005 but did not end poverty.

It was during this time that Albert Ngendera, who like many Burundians ate crocodile, decided to snap up 12 baby crocodiles and save them from the pot by putting them on his porch at his home in the capital Bujumbura.

“I had dogs before – about 10 – but dogs have no benefit. They’re there for security but nothing else. These animals, they’re nice to look at,” he says, crouching next to the small pen where his scaly pets lounge around all day and enjoy the odd dip in small ponds.

Four crocodiles died from poisoned food that neighbours threw over the fence, perhaps remembering the beast that put Burundi on the map for wildlife as well as war 10 years ago: Gustave. This 20ft-long, 2,000 pound heavy croc allegedly gorged himself on hundreds of villagers.

National Geographic spent years searching for “the largest, most fabled crocodile in all of Africa – a demonic Loch Ness monster of incredible proportions and, according to legend, appetite,” but Gustave vanished.

Despite the setback, Albert’s croc stock is about to go through the roof, with up to 45 babies expected in January. So far, he has nowhere to put them, but he hopes that the land the government promised him will one day come through so that he can finally develop his wildlife park, complete with a restaurant where crocburgers are off the menu.

“People can just eat bread and fish, like Jesus,” he says, likening his home to Noah’s Ark as he shows off his collection of cobras, chimpanzees, tortoises and monkeys that he rescues by buying from hunters.

He’s never watched the Crocodile Dundee films, or seen the late broadcaster and wildlife expert Steve Irwin, but thinks “it’s not good to play with animals like crocodiles”, and learns from the South African conservationists he sees on TV.

Burundi’s president has called Albert in to discuss his dilemma, but getting land for animals in one of the most densely-populated countries on Earth is difficult.

At Bujumbura’s Musee Vivant (‘living museum’), star-crossed crocodiles Romeo and Juliet can only gaze at one another from tiny pens to avoid the pitter patter of tiny feet, while giant Lacoste – the shirtfront emblem of any self-respecting Frenchman – may as well be embroidered for all the pool space he has to wallow in.

The zoo relies on selling £3 guinea pigs and £7 rabbits for tourists to feed to the crocodiles to keep the place afloat.

The government lacks the funds to lock up the crocodiles, says Feruzi Mohamed, director general of Burundi’s environment ministry. “But even if we did, we wouldn’t enclose this species away from their natural habitat.”

Mohamed is relying on a law that threatens crocodile hunters with a six-month jail term and fine. But if Burundi really wants to save its crocs, it had better make it snappy or they will be immortalised only in legends.

World’s smallest monitor lizard discovery in Australia

This video says about itself:

24 March 2014

Sir David Attenborough narrates a documentary about the life and crimes of Africa’s most notorious raider the monitor lizard. To feed its monster appetite, it will steal from under the noses of humans, lions and crocodiles, but with its criminal lifestyle comes extreme danger. The Nile Monitor is Africa’s largest lizard and most notorious ‘raider’ – its ultimate challenge is to steal the heavily guarded eggs and young of the Nile crocodile – can this expert thief pull it off?

From daily The Guardian in Britain:

Newly discovered Dampier peninsula goanna to go on display at WA Museum

The lizard, which grows to a maximum length of 23cm, is the world’s smallest and newest addition to the genus that includes monitors and Komodo dragons

Tuesday 30 December 2014 07.36 GMT

A newly discovered species of reptile, the Dampier peninsula goanna, has gone on display at the Western Australian Museum. The lizard is the world’s smallest addition to the Varanus genus, the family that also includes monitors and Komodo dragons.

The lizard on display, a female named Pokey, may look ordinary to the untrained eye but for scientists she’s an evolutionary marvel.

Unlike her relatives, who are often large and found over a widespread area of Australia, Pokey and her fellow Dampier peninsula goannas are found only on the peninsula north of Broome and Derby in Western Australia’s Kimberley region. The species is quite tiny, growing to a maximum 23cm in length and weighing only 16 grams.

WA Museum’s reptile expert, Dr Paul Doughty, said the discovery of the Dampier peninsula goanna was significant because it is a new species.

Doughty said this goanna diverged from its closest living relative – the short-tailed monitor – about six to seven million years ago, about the same time humans and chimpanzees split off from their common ancestor.

Museum visitors will be able to observe her small head, tiny legs, stretchy body and short tail, which Doughty described as a “funky” shape for a goanna.

See also here.

Paleontology helping to restore Abaco, Bahamas biodiversity?

A new University of Florida study shows scientists are only beginning to understand the roles of native species in prehistoric island ecosystems. Researchers discovered this 3,000-year-old fossil skull of a Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the Bahamas. Credit: Florida Museum of Natural History, by Kristen Grace

From the University of Florida in the USA today:

Answer to restoring lost island biodiversity found in fossils

Many native species have vanished from tropical islands because of human impact, but University of Florida scientists have discovered how fossils can be used to restore lost biodiversity.

The key lies in organic materials found in fossil bones, which contain evidence for how ancient ecosystems functioned, according to a new study available online and in the September issue of the Journal of Herpetology. Pre-human island ecosystems provide vital clues for saving endangered island and re-establishing , said lead author Alex Hastings, who conducted work for the study as graduate student at the Florida Museum of Natural History and UF department of geological sciences.

“Our work is particularly relevant to that are currently living in marginal environments,” said Hastings, currently a postdoctoral researcher at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. “A better understanding of species’ natural roles in ecosystems untouched by people might improve their prospects for survival.”

Thousands of years ago, the largest carnivore and herbivore on the Bahamian island of Abaco disappeared. The study reconstructs the ancient food web of Abaco where these two mega-reptiles, the endangered Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) and the now-extinct Albury’s Tortoise (Chelonoidis alburyorum), once flourished. Today, there is no modern terrestrial ecosystem like that of ancient Abaco, with reptiles filling the roles of largest herbivore and carnivore.

In the study, sponsored by the National Science Foundation and National Geographic Society, researchers embarked on the difficult task of reconstructing an ecosystem where few of the components still exist. To understand these missing pieces, scientists analyzed the types of carbon and nitrogen in well-preserved from the Cuban Crocodile and Albury’s Tortoise, which was unknown to scientists before its 2004 discovery in the Bahamas. The data reveal the crocodile and tortoise were both terrestrial, showing that reptiles “called the shots” on the island, Hastings said.

The terrestrial nature of these creatures is a great indicator of how biodiversity has changed in the Bahamas and what the ideal circumstances would be for these or similar species to return, said Florida Museum ornithology curator and study co-author David Steadman.

“On islands like Abaco that have always been dominated by reptiles, the flora and fauna are more vulnerable because they have evolved to lead a more laid back, island existence,” Steadman said. “Understanding this is important to designing better approaches to conservation on the island.”

Early paleontological sites in the Bahamas have yielded bones from numerous species of reptiles, birds and mammals that no longer exist on the islands. James Mead, a vertebrate paleontologist with East Tennessee State University, said more research into the evolutionary history of native plants and animals on Abaco is needed as well as conservation programs based on paleontological research that aims to restore these species.

“The Cuban crocodile is living today in small numbers in Cuba, but this new research shows that it is not living to its fullest potential,” Mead said. “The crocodile could live more abundantly in a much wider habitat if we allowed it.”

New prehistoric crocodile discovered, named after Tolkien’s balrog

This video is called Lord of the Rings – Gandalf vs Balrog.


Anthracosuchus balrogus: Giant Prehistoric Crocodile Discovered

June 4, 2014

Paleontologists have discovered a new species of crocodile-like reptile that swam in the rivers of what is now Colombia during [the] Paleocene, about 60 million years ago.

The newly discovered prehistoric monster has been named Anthracosuchus balrogus.

The specific epithet, balrogus, derives from the Balrog, the name of a ferocious fictional creature that appeared in J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and dwelled deep in the middle-Earth ‘Mines of Moria.’

Anthracosuchus balrogus belongs to Dyrosauridae, a family of now-extinct crocodyliforms that lived from Late Cretaceous to the Eocene.

Originating in Africa, these crocodile-like reptiles swam across the Atlantic Ocean to South America about 75 million year ago. The family somehow survived the extinction event that wiped out the dinosaurs and persisted to become a top predator.

Four specimens of Anthracosuchus balrogus were unearthed in the Cerrejon coal mine, northern Colombia.

“It quickly became clear that the four fossil specimens were unlike any dyrosaur species ever found,” said Dr Alex Hastings from Martin Luther Universität Halle-Wittenberg, who is the lead author of a paper published in the journal Historical Biology.

The crocodyliforms that lived in the Cerrejon ecosystem during the Paleocene, when temperatures were higher than today, thrived and grew to enormous sizes.

“This group offers clues as to how animals survive extinctions and other catastrophes. As we face climates that are warmer today, it is important to understand how animals responded in the past. This family of crocodyliforms in Cerrejon adapted and did very well despite incredible obstacles, which could speak to the ability of living crocodiles to adapt and overcome,” Dr Hastings said.

Anthracosuchus balrogus was about 5 meters long, weighed 410 kg, and had an unusually blunt snout for species in the dyrosaurids family.

“The species’ short snout paired with large jaw muscles typical of dyrosaurids, would give it an incredibly powerful bite,” Dr Hastings said.

It lived in freshwater rivers alongside the famous giant Titanoboa snake (measured up to 18 meters long), ate turtles and fish.

“We couldn’t believe it had such a boxy, short skull and that it was still a dyrosaur. It really busts the mold for these animals. It is such a completely different looking beast than we’ve seen for these crocodile-like animals,” said co-author Dr Jonathan Bloch of Florida Museum.

“The study of dyrosaurids in Cerrejon is providing a better understanding of the early history of crocodiles in the Neotropics,” concluded senior author Dr Carlos Jaramillo of the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute.

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Mangrove swallows, marbled godwit and caracara in Costa Rica

Mangrove swallows, 25 March 2014

Still 25 March 2014; still on the Tarcoles river in Costa Rica. All along the river, mangrove swallows flying, or sitting on branches.

Mangrove swallow, 25 March 2014

One mangrove swallow sat down on the boat.

Jacana, 25 March 2014

Northern jacanas wading along the bank.

A great egret.

Black-necked stilt, 25 March 2014

Black-necked stilt.

A green heron.

Another swallow species: barn swallows, which will probably start their spring migration to North America soon.

A ringed kingfisher.

Yellow-headed caracara, 25 March 2014

A yellow-headed caracara lands on the boat. It knows the boat well. Later, it is on the bank, with a great egret.

An osprey flying.

An Amazon kingfisher.

American crocodile, 25 March 2014

On the bank, a not yet really big American crocodile.

Whimbrel on tree trunk, 25 March 2014

A whimbrel on a tree trunk.

Black hawk, 25 March 2014

A mangrove black hawk (or: common black hawk?) in a treetop.

Willet and marbled godwit, 25 March 2014

On a beach, a marbled godwit, a willet and a whimbrel together.

Marbled godwit, 25 March 2014

Another marbled godwit photo.

We were approaching the Tarcoles estuary, where the river water goes into the Pacific ocean. Stay tuned!