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Crocodilians

There are three families of Crocodilia, with 23 species total--alligators, caimans, crocodiles and gharials and false gharials (Malayan gharials). Crocodilians, like all reptiles, are ectotherms (once called "cold-blooded"). When crocodilians need to heat up, they come on land to bask in the sun. When they need to cool off, they get back in the water. Crocodilians have scaly skin, they lay egs and have lungs for breathing. Crocodilians grow continuously throughout their lives. They range in size from Cuvier's dwarf caiman, which only grows to about 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, to the Indopacific crocodile (saltwater crocodile, found in the Indo-Australian tactonic plate), which grows to 23 feet (7 meters) long. Male crocodilians are larger than females.

Crocodilians are the most vocal of all reptiles, and calls vary widely depending on species, age, size and sex. The following are few examples of the various sounds crocodilians make:

American Alligator
Adult Male Courtship Bellow
Hatchling Call
High-intensity Hiss and Bite
Low Intensity Cough
Eastern Chinese Alligator
Adult Male Courtship Bellow
Juvenile Contact Call (Excited)
Crocodiles
Saltwater Croc Hatchling Call
Siamese Croc High-intensity Hiss

Crocodilians play an important role in keeping the balance in the complex web of life in freshwater and estuarine ecosystems. They are well-adapted as predators, with few natural enemies. Bony plates, called osteoderms, form a kind of armor in their thick skin. They have about 30 to 40 teeth in each jaw, which are set into sockets in the jawbones and interlock when the mouth is closed. Because the teeth are not deeply rooted, like those of mammals, crocodilians can replace their teeth an indefinite number of times. Teeth are replaced on average once every two years.

Crocodiles can't stick out their tongues because their tongues are rooted to the bottom of their mouths. Crocodilians do not have lips and their mouths leak when closed. The crocodilian's jaws are powerful enough in closing to crush the bones of small animals, but so weak in opening that they can be held together by hand.

Crocodilians eat a wide range of prey. Crocodilians hunt in a variety of ways. One way is to grasp prey with a fast, sideways swipe of the head. They may also use their tails to knock over vegetation to dislodge nestling birds, or to direct fish to within striking distance of the jaws. Its most deadly attack is the "death roll", which entails the crocodilian grabbing its prey and rolling powerfully. This knocks large prey off balance, so it's easier for crocodilian to drag it in the water and drown it.

Young crocodiles spend a lot of time out of water and eat small prey, Subadults live in swamps and backwaters, eating fish, terrapins, birds and small mammals. Adults feed regularly on fish, particularly catfish, but also ambush game (e.g., antelope, wildebeast and zebras) coming to drink. They'll also eat other smaller crocodiles and carrion. The most dangerous crocodilian to humans is the estuarine or salt-marsh crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), which lives in salt and brackish waters from northern Australia and New Guinea, through most of Southeast Asia, to southern India.

Crocodiles can't chew. So they break up large prey into smaller pieces by means of head shaking, thrashing and rolling (known as the death roll). Crocodiles will sometimes cooperate in hunting, feeding and breaking up prey. Crocodiles eat the entire animal, including bones, antlers, etc. Gastroliths (stomach stones or gizzard stones) are sometimes swallowed to act as a ballast for buoyancy management and aid in the post-digestion processing of their prey.

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