The baby saltwater crocodile is ready to rumble from birth.
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Wikimedia Commons
A saltwater crocodile in a relaxed moment. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

There's good reason crocodiles are among the longest survivors on the planet: naked aggression, and the Australian saltwater outdoes them all.

Baby saltwaters are cute as buttons - and about as empathetic as them, a study of juvenile crocs has found.

The study encompassed seven crocodile, alligator and gharial species, and of them all the saltwater crocodile - the biggest - was the most aggressive, says wildlife biologist Matthew Brien ov the Charles Darwin University.

"You've got quite aggressive species, like your saltwater crocodile which is number one. The New Guinea freshwater crocodile was also quite aggressive," he told Reuters.

The violent tendencies of juvie saltwaters hadn't been known, since they typically stay well hidden until adulthood. The adult version, with its broad snout and crushing jaws, had certainly been well-known, and Brien wanted to know if the animal's brain is hard-wired for aggression from birth. Seems, that's a yes.

"This behavior where they twitch their tail before launching themselves into the other one, then swing their head quite violently into the head or the body of an opponent… really, we've only ever seen that in adults during the breeding season," Brien says.

Gracious as a gharial

The other six species that were studied displayed varying but categorically lesser degrees of aggression, with the babies of the American alligator and Indian gharial being the least belligerent.

Darwin zoologist Grahame Webb was unsurprised at the saltie's born aggressive nature. "Hard-wired because when they come out into the world the first thing they they've got to do is confront another crocodile in order to survive," he says.

The saltie, also known as the Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the biggest of the surviving crocodilians, which go back at least 200 million years. At a maximal known length of 6.7 meters (i.e., three times as long as NBA stars are tall), it's is also the biggest terrestrial predator in the world and can weigh as much as two tons.

They usually run rather smaller than that in nature, but you don't want to run into one – and note that despite their monicker, they are perfectly happy to lurk waiting for you, or some other prey, in fresh waters of estuaries and rivers. It is distinguished from other crocodilians by the roundish, wide shape of its snout, and differences in the ridge running down its snout – the scales are smaller and rounder than those of other species.

Saltie babies, by the way, are born at up to a foot long – and they take about as long as your kids to reach sexual maturity.

Israel, by the way, used to have crocodiles, which had a pretty much worldwide spread in the distant eons of yore. In nature, they have gone extinct and the only place to view the reptiles is either one of Israel's zoos or the Hamat Gader crocodilia farm.