Alligators and Crocodiles Can Climb Trees

February 12, 2014

Snakes, lizards, and frogs aren't the only herps that can climb trees. It turns out that certain crocodilians also possess the capability to climb trees for basking and apparently for lookout purposes. And it isn't limited to just a few species of crocodilian. Prof. Vladimir Dinets and his associates Adam Britton and Matthew Shirley recently published a paper discussing the phenomenon of climbing crocs and alligators.

American alligator in a tree

Photo by Kristine Gingras

A sub-adult American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) perching on a tree branch in Pearl River Delta, Mississippi. 

Titled, "Climbing behaviour in extant crocodilians" and recently published in the journal Herpetological Notes, the paper takes a look at many instances of multiple species of alligators and crocodiles, mostly juveniles, in trees and on tree branches. What they noted that all the confirmed instances of crocodilians in trees were observed by researchers conducting unrelated research. Researchers from around the world have observed more than 10 species of crocodilians in tree branches, and on tree trunks, some as high as 3 meters above the water. 

Dinets and his associates are not sure why the reptiles climb trees, but speculate in their paper that the animals might be seeking higher vantage points for the purposes of sunning themselves, or thermoregulating their bodies, roosting, or perhaps for surveillance of their surrounding habitat. They note that the most frequent incidence of tree climbing are with species that live in areas that lack ideal land-based basking sites, such as heavily forested areas or coastlines teeming with mangroves. This notion however, doesn't explain the incidence of nighttime basking with certain tree climbing species, they say. They also noted that regardless of species, when approached by boat during the day or night, the roosting reptiles almost always slipped back into the water.

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