Richard Lydekker.

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thinness of those on the lower surface of the body. Curiously enough, the Chinese
alligator (Alligator sinensis), which is a comparatively small species, is the one
coming nearest in structure to the caimans ; this approximation being shown by
the great development of bone in the upper eyelid, and the presence of thin bony
plates on the lower surface of the body. The latter are, however, placed wide
apart, without any mutual articulation or overlapping. In this species the front
toes are free, the number of plates on the neck is usually six, although these may
be reduced to four, while generally there are but six plates in the widest of the
transverse rows on the back. The number of teeth in the upper jaw is seventeen
or eighteen, against eighteen or nineteen in the lower. In colour the upper-parts
are greenish black, speckled and streaked with yellow ; while the under-parts are
greyish. In the much larger Mississippi alligator (A. mississippiensis), of which
the dimensions exceed those of the great caiman, the front toes are webbed, there
are but four plates on the neck, and there are always eight plates in the widest'
of the transverse rows of the back. There are nineteen or twenty teeth on each
side of both jaws ; and in the adult the colour is dark green or blackish above,
and yellowish below. The range of this species embraces the South-Eastern United
States, from the Rio Grande to North Carolina. The third species (A. helois) is al
small one, distinguished by the slight compression of the tail, which is scarcely!

Our knowledge of the Chinese alligator (which was first made known to science '
in 1879) in the living state is mainly or entirely derived from specimens exhibited ji
in the menageries of Europe; while the accounts of the mode of life of the Missis-
sippi species are by no means so full as is desirable. It appears, however, that the I
latter spends the greater part of its time in the water, where its main diet is formed it
by fish, although it will seize and drag such sheep, goats, dogs, deer, or horses, that 1
while drinking, come within reach of its terrible jaws. During flood-time, wher|
many of the lowlands are under water, the alligators leave the rivers to feed orjl
the fish which abound in the flooded districts ; returning to their old quarters witl: |
the subsidence of the inundations. To such flooded lowlands, writes Audubon, " ir|
the early part of the autumn, when the heat of a southern sun has evaporatec i
much of the water, the squatter, the hunter, the planter, all go in search of sporti
The lakes then are about two feet deep, having a fine sandy bottom. . . . The long|


narrow Indian canoe, kept to hunt these lakes, and taken into them during the
freshet, is soon launched ; and the party seated in the bottom is paddled, or poled,
to look for water-game. Then, on a sudden, hundreds of alligators are seen
dispersed all over the lake ; their head and all the upper part of their body floating
like a log, and in many instances so resembling one, that it requires to be accus-
tomed to see them to know the distinction. Millions of the large wood-ibis are
seen wading through the water, muddling it up, and striking deadly blows with


their bills on the fish therein. ... It is then that you see and hear the alligator at
his work ; each lake has a spot deeper than the rest, rendered so by these animals
who work at it; and always situated at the lower end of the lake." By this
means a supply of water is ensured ; and in these so-called alligators' holes the
reptiles may be seen congregating in hundreds. " The fish, that are already dying
by thousands through the insufferable heat and stench of the water, and the
wounds of the different winged enemies constantly in pursuit of them, resort to
the alligators' hole to receive refreshment, with a hope of finding security also, and
follow down the little current flowing through the connecting sluices ; but no 1 for,


as the water recedes in the lake, they are here confined. The alligators thrash
them, and devour them whenever they feel hungry, while the ibis destroys all that
make towards the shore. By looking attentively on this spot, you plainly see the
tails of the alligators moving to and fro, splashing, and now and then, when missing
a fish, throwing it up in the air. The hunter marks one of the eyes of the largest
alligators, and as the hair-trigger is touched the alligator dies. Should the ball
strike one inch astray from the eye, the animal flounces, rolls over and over,
beating furiously about him with his tail, frightening all his companions, who sink
immediately ; whilst the fishes, like blades of burnished metal, leap in all directions
out of the water, so terrified are they at this uproar."

During the pairing-season, which takes place in the spring, the males resort
to the land, and are but seldom seen ; while soon after the female deposits her
hard white eggs, which are said at times to be upwards of one hundred in number.
The nest in which the eggs are laid is generally placed among bushes or reeds, at
a distance of fifty or sixty yards from the water's edge ; the eggs themselves being
carefully covered with leaves and other vegetable matter. The heat engendered
by the decomposition of the latter, aids in the hatching of the eggs ; and when the
young appear, they are conducted to the water by the mother, who has all the
time remained on guard near the nest.

Double-Tusked In the middle and lower Tertiary deposits of both Europe and

Alligators, ^he United States, the present group was represented by certain
extinct alligators (Diplocynodon) characterised by the presence of a bony armour
on the lower surface of the body, coupled with the circumstance that the fourth
tooth of the lower jaw was generally received into a notch in the side of the skull,
while the third lower tooth was as much enlarged as the fourth. Some of these
double-tusked alligators had short snouts, like their existing allies ; but in one
from the London Clay this part of the skull was much produced, as in many

stumpy A small and short-nosed crocodile (Osteolcemus tetraspis) from

Crocodile. West Africa, in the neighbourhood of Sierra Leone, where it was
discovered by Du Chaillu, presents much the same relationship to the true
crocodiles as is held by the alligators to the caimans. Thus, while the arrange-
ment of the teeth is similar to that obtaining in the true crocodiles, the nasal
bones extend forwards to divide the cavity of the nostrils into two halves.
Moreover, the upper eyelid is largely bony, while there are detached bony
plates on the lower surface of the body, as well as on the throat. The shield of
the neck is distinct from that of the back, and is composed of two or three pairs
of plates, of which the anterior ones are very large; while that of the back
comprises seventeen transverse rows of plates, the broadest row including six of
such plates. The ridges on the plates of the neck are strongly marked, but they
become very obscure in the two middle rows of the back. The fore-toes have-
only rudimentary webs, although those of the hind-limbs are webbed for about
half their length. With the exception of parts of the head, tail, and back, which
are light brown with black markings, the coloration of the adult is uniform blackish
brown. Young specimens are, however, yellowish brown, spotted with black above,
and with bars of the same on the body and tail ; while the lower armour is black



and yellow. Practically nothing is known as to the habits of this peculiar species,
which are, however, probably very similar to those of its allies.

The true crocodiles comprise rather less than a dozen species
True Crocodiles.

ranging over Africa, Southern Asia, Northern Australia, and Tropical

America. Having no bony armour on the lower surface of the body, they are
distinguished from the caimans and alligators by the interlocking of the upper
and lower teeth, and by the fourth lower tooth being usually received into a notch
on the side of the upper jaw, so as to be partially visible when the mouth is closed,
while the number of teeth varies from seventeen to nineteen on each side of the

STUMPY CROCODILE (^ nat. size).

upper jaw, and fifteen in the lower. From the stumpy crocodile they are distin-
guished by the aperture of the nostrils in the skull not being divided by the
forward prolongation of the nasal bones. While some of the species resemble the
alligators in their broad and short snouts, others have elongated, narrow snouts,
approaching those of the garials ; but as there is an almost complete gradation
from the one type to the other, this affords no ground for generic distinction,
so that the most that can be done is to arrange them in groups.

Commonly known to the natives of India as the inagar, and
misnamed alligator by Anglo-Indians, the Indian crocodile (Crocodilus
palustrifs} is the best known representative of a group of four species which,
in their broad and short snouts, make the nearest approach to the caimans and

Indian Crocodile.


alligators. In all these the length of the snout does not exceed one and a half
times its basal width ; the bony union between the two branches of the lower jaw
does not extend behind the level of the fourth or fifth tooth ; while on the palate
the line of union between the anterior and main jawbones (premaxillse and
maxillae) extends nearly straight across the skull, as shown in the figure 011 p. 2.
The Indian crocodile has no bony ridges on the snout, while there are usually four
longitudinal rows of bony plates on the back, and there are five teeth in each
anterior upper jawbone or premaxilla. An allied species (G. robustus) from the
interior of Madagascar, differs by having six longitudinal rows of plates on the
back ; while the Cuban crocodile (G. rhombifer), of Central America, and a nearly
related species {G. moreleti), from Guatemala, are distinguished by having a more
or less distinct oblique ridge in front of the eye.

The habitat of the Indian crocodile includes India, Ceylon, Burma, and the
Malay Peninsula and Islands ; its most westerly range being Sind and Baluchistan.
Inhabiting rivers, lakes, and marshes, it appears to be an exclusively fresh-water
species, never venturing into estuaries. As to the dimensions attained by this
species there is some uncertainty, although it is probable that at the present day
specimens seldom grow to the size that was reached before firearms were common.
Nowadays from 12 to 14 feet appears to be a large size for this species, but a
length of 18 feet has been recorded, while skulls in the Calcutta Museum would
seem to indicate still larger individuals. A nearly allied extinct species has left
its remains in the Siwalik Hills of Northern India. Swarming in most of the rivers
and marshes of India, except where the current is too swift, the Indian crocodile
is stated to be less ferocious than the species next mentioned, generally preying
on the smaller animals, and not unfrequently dragging down a wounded or dead
bird before the eyes of the gunner. When the waters they frequent become dried
up, these crocodiles will either travel across country by night to another lake or
river, or bury themselves in the mud.

Estuarine Kesembling its compatriot in its pale olive colour, conspicuously

crocodile, spotted with black, the estuarine crocodile (G. porosus), of India and
other regions, may be at once distinguished by its longer and more slender snout,
as well as by the presence of only four teeth in each anterior jawbone or pre-
maxilla of the adult. It belongs, indeed, to a group of four species, differing from
the preceding assemblage in the length of the snout varying from rather more
than one and a half to just over twice its basal width ; and also by the line of
union between the anterior and main jawbones running in a V shape up the
palate. The presence of a large ridge running down the skull in front of the
eye serves to distinguish this species not only from all the other members of the
group, but likewise from the Indian crocodile. The present species generally, if
not invariably, inhabits the tidal portions of rivers, from whence it descends into
the sea, where it has been observed floating at considerable distances from land.
These estuarine and partially marine habits will readily account for the wide
geographical distribution of this crocodile, which ranges from India to Australia.
Unknown on the western coast of India, the estuarine crocodile is abundant in the
lower courses of the rivers of Bengal and other parts of the eastern side of India,
as well as in Ceylon and Burma, whence it extends eastwards to Southern China,


Torthern Australia, and the islands of the Solomon and Fiji groups. In point of
ize it probably surpasses all other species, one specimen being recorded which
cached the enormous length of 33 feet

In correspondence with its gigantic size, this crocodile appears to be one of the
lost formidable members of its kind, being exceedingly prone to attack human
iings, more especially in the breeding-season, which takes place during June
id July, when it is stated to attack such small boats as may cross its haunts.


Owing to its depredations, these crocodiles are cordially detested as well as
feared by the natives of India, and at Dacca, on the north of the Bay of Bengal,
crocodile-hunting is pursued as a profession. The following account of the pursuit
of one of these monsters which had recently carried off a boy is abridged from a
native newspaper. The hunter, having been summoned, moored his canoe hard by
the place where the tragedy had taken place, it being well known that a crocodile
which has been successful in. securing a victim will generally remain for some days
about the spot. Soon the crocodile was descried floating on the water, whereupon
the hunter and assistant hid themselves in the canoe, while the son of the former
entered the water, which he commenced to beat with his hands. Catching sight


Nile Crocodile.

of the boy, the crocodile prepared to dive towards him, upon which the boy took
refuge in the canoe. In a moment or so the reptile rose to the surface at the
expected spot, where he was saluted with a couple of harpoons, one of which
secured a firm hold. After a long chase, in which a number of the inhabitants
of the village took part in boats, a second harpoon was safely planted in the head
of the monster, who was finally dragged to shore. When opened, several gold and
silver ornaments the relics of earlier victims were found in his stomach. In
Ceylon, according to Sir J. E. Tennent, crocodiles are frequently captured by means
of a hook and line, which are laid over-night in the water, and made fast, in the
native fashion, by a bunch of fine cords. These cords becoming fixed between the
interstices of the creature's teeth, are safe from being bitten through ; and in the
morning the captive is dragged ashore and despatched. It may be added that,
when thus captured, crocodiles emit a disagreeable musky smell, due to the secretion
of a pair of glands in the lower jaw.

Formerly inhabiting the Nile from its mouth to its source, the
Nile crocodile (G. niloticus), from the invasion of its haunts by steam
vessels and the introduction of rifles, has now well-nigh disappeared from Egypt,

even as far back as the year
1870 being but rarely seen
below Beni Hassan, and not
common till above the second
cataract. In the upper reaches
of the Nile it still exists in
its pristine numbers, whence
its range extends southwards
to the Cape and northwards
to Senegal. The species also
occurs in Madagascar, while it
likewise still lingers in Syria,
in the neighbourhood of the
Zerka, or Crocodile River, near
Csesarea. Distinguished from
the estuarine crocodile by the
NILE CROCODILE. absence of the ridge in front

of each eye, this species differs

from the other two members of the same group by the want of any ridge on the
middle of the snout or forehead, so that its whole skull is comparatively smooth.
In size it falls but little, if at all short of the estuarine crocodile ; although differing
from the latter by the uniformly dark olive colour of the adult,

As the habits of this crocodile do not differ in any important respects from
those of the other members of the genus, they do not require any detailed notice,
although a few words must be devoted to its cult by the ancient Egyptians, among
whom it was known by the name of champsa. By these remarkable people the
crocodile was regarded as the symbol of sunrise possibly, it has been suggested,
on account of the brightness of its eye, or, perhaps, because that is the first part to
appear when the creature emerges from the water. Among the places where the


crocodile was specially reverenced were Thebes and the shores of Lake Moeris, as
well as Ombi, near Syene. At Thebes a crocodile was reared from youth in the
temple, where it was fed with sacred food, adorned with rings and bangles, and
worshipped with divine honours; while after death its mummified body was care-
fully preserved in the catacombs, where hundreds of embalmed crocodiles are still
to be found. Something analogous to this Egyptian veneration for the crocodile
is to be met with in other countries. Leith-Adams tells us that the Indian
crocodile is reclaimed by certain religious sects in India, being rendered so tame
that it will leave its pond to feed out of its keeper's hand ; while Mrs. R. B. Lee
relates that at Dix Cove, on the north-western coast of Africa, a pair of tame
crocodiles were kept in a pond by priests, dressed in white garments, who fed their
charges with snow-white fowls.

In the Upper Nile the favourite haunts of the crocodiles are sandbanks,
situated in parts of the river where the current is not too strong. There they
may be seen at all hours of the day sleeping with widely opened mouths, in and
out of which the black-backed plover (as mentioned on p. 475 of the preceding
volume) walks with the utmost unconcern. According to Arab accounts, one and
the same crocodile has been known to haunt a single sandbank throughout the
term of a man's life ; thus leading to the conclusion that these creatures must enjoy
a long term of existence, during the whole of which they continue, like other
reptiles, to increase in size. In common with this feature of uninterrupted growth,
all crocodiles are also distinguished by their remarkable tenacity of life ; the shots
that prove instantaneously fatal being those that take effect either in the brain
itself or in the spinal cord of the neck. It is true indeed, that a shot through the
shoulder will ultimately cause death; but it allows time for the animal to escape
into the water, where its body immediately sinks. To reach the brain, the
crocodile should be struck immediately behind the aperture of the ear. Although
it is commonly supposed that the bony armour of these reptiles is bullet-proof, this
quite erroneous ; if the plates are struck obliquely, the bullet will, however,
squenfcly ricochet.

A remarkable instance of boldness and ferocity displayed by a crocodile of
species is narrated by a correspondent of the Times, during a journey to
shorialand. On arriving one evening at the banks of the narrow but rocky
\>kwi River, a man named Williams rode in with the intention of crossing-.


During the passage his horse was carried by the stream a few yards below the
landing-place, and just as he reached the opposite bank he was seized by the leg
by a crocodile, which dragged him from his horse into the stream. There the
reptile let go its hold, upon which the man managed to crawl on to a small island.
Immediately his companion rode in to his assistance, upon which another very
large crocodile mounted up between him and his horse's neck, and then slipped
back, making a dreadful wound on his side and in the horse's neck with its claws
as it did so. The river seemed, indeed, to be absolutely swarming with crocodiles ;
and it was with the greatest difficulty that the unfortunate man Williams, who
ultimately died of his wounds, was brought to bank.

The Siamese crocodile (C. siamensis). inhabiting; Siam, Cambodia,
Siam Crocodile. . .

and Java, may be distinguished from the preceding species by the



presence of a longitudinal ridge on the skull between the eyes, although the snout

is smooth. It agrees with the latter in having the anterior bony plates of the neck

well developed, these being usually absent in the estuarine crocodile.

Sharp-Nosed The last member of this group is the sharp-nosed crocodile

crocodile. (r americanus) of Central America, which has a longer and sharper

muzzle than any of the preceding, and is further characterised by the presence of


a distinct median ridge running down the snout. There are usually four large
bony plates on the neck, forming a square, with a smaller pair on the sides of the
front ones ; while the plates of the back are arranged in fifteen or sixteen trans-
verse rows, and in either four or six longitudinal bands. In the fore-limb tin-
second and third toes are but slightly webbed, while the outer toes of the hind-
foot are united by larger webs. In coloration the adult is blackish olive above,
and yellowish beneath ; while the young are pale olive with black spots. In
addition to being widely distributed in Central America and the adjacent regions,



such as Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, and Florida, this crocodile is also met with in
the West Indian Islands.

Orinoco Nearly allied to the last, although with a still longer and more

Crocodile. slender snout, is the Orinoco crocodile (C. intermedius), which is
referred by Mr. Boulenger to a third group, characterised by their very slender
and garial-like snouts, of which the length is equal to at least twice the basal
breadth ; and also by the bony union between the two branches of the lower jaw
extending as far back as the sixth, seventh, or eighth tooth, instead of stopping
short at the fifth. In this particular species the snout, which has no ridges, varies
in length from twice to twice and a half the width at the base ; while the six bony
plates on the neck are widely separated from those of the back, and are arranged
in a square of four, with a pair on the sides. The colour is olive above and
yellowish beneath, while in both this and the preceding species the length is about
13 feet. The Orinoco crocodile appears to be confined to the river from which it
takes its name and its affluents. The best accounts of the Orinoco and sharp-
nosed crocodile are by Humboldt, who states that these reptiles swarm on the
Apure, where they may often be seen in parties of eight or ten lying on the open
space between the shore of the river and the forest. At the time of his journey
the river was, however, still low, and consequently hundreds of crocodiles were
lying concealed beneath the mud of the adjacent lowlands. In the stomach of one
that was opened were found a half-digested fish and a granite pebble ; the latter
having probably been swallowed inadvertently while the animal was groping about
in the mud in search of food. In spite of their comparatively slender jaws, these
crocodiles frequently seize the natives while stooping to draw water from the river.
A large portion of their prey is, however, afforded by the defenceless carpirichos,
which are met with in droves of from fifty to sixty head, and fall victims to the
jaguars on land and to the crocodiles in the water. In their young state when
only from 7 to 8 inches in length the crocodiles themselves are, however, devoured
by vultures, who seize them on the shore or in the shallow water. It was curious,
observes Humboldt, to see the address with which the little reptiles defended
themselves for a time against their aggressors. As soon as they perceived the
enemy, they raised themselves on their fore-paws, bent their backs, and lifted up
their heads, opening their wide jaws. They turned continually, though slowly,
towards their assailant to show him their teeth, which, even when the animal had
but recently issued from the egg, were very long and sharp. Often, while the
attention of one of the young crocodiles was wholly engaged by one of the
vultures, another seized the favourable opportunity for an unforeseen attack,

Online LibraryRichard LydekkerThe new natural history (Volume 5) → online text (page 4 of 62)