chat week 99 Transcript - Dr.Adam Britton
A-Z of Alligators Crocodiles and Caimans
JeffB - Good evening and welcome to kingsnake.com's last night of chat week 99
JeffB - Our guest tonight is Dr.Adam Britton
JeffB - and his topic is the A-Z of Alligators Crocodiles and Caimans
AdamB - Greetings from Down Under!
JeffB - Adam what is your current research
AdamB - Basically, anything to do with saltwater crocodiles, and freshwater crocs. I'm working with their management right now, but of course doing things with their biology
AdamB - Current projects: GIS habitat mapping of nesting areas, breeding restrictions on females, survey techniques, digestion, vocalizations (distress calls), plus a few others
JFORKS - in your last transcript you said that poaching numbers were down, is this still the trend? what do you attribute that too?
AdamB - Saltie numbers here in the NT are at least 70,000 animals. There's not much demand for poaching (it's really very costly!), skin value is down somewhat right now. Some does occur (mainly people taking pot shots with guns) but it's negligible
kcaj - adam> i I've in Florida and work with a fellow named joe wasiluwski (if spelled right) and i was wondering if you have ever done any work with him, he is a great guy and he does research down at turkey point with the American crocs, i don't know if you saw him on mark osheas adventures? do you know him?
kcaj - your name has come up here and there in our conversations
AdamB - Yep, I know Joe. He took me out catching American crocs at Turkey Point about four years ago - a great guy, and a neat situation they have set up there at the power plant. He has a nice collection in his back yard!
kcaj - heheh yep he sure does! lol
kcaj - cool, ill say hello for you
AdamB - I know Mark O'Shea as well - one of his Nile crocs attacked me once!
kcaj - hahahah
AdamB - Send him my regards
kcaj - no problem
kevinB - what are all the crocodilian in the "dwarf" family?I heard there was more than the ones being sold now but some Chinese dwarf being the smallest,Also what is the smallest?I don't know this "cause they are illegal here.
AdamB - There are 3 dwarf species: Cuvier's dwarf caiman (Paleosuchus palpebrosus), Scheider's dwarf caiman (P. trigonatus) and the dwarf croc from Africa (Osteolaemus tetraspis). P. palpebrosus is the smallest at 2m
AdamB - There are also dwarf populations of Nile crocs, freshwater crocs, and probably several other species in areas which have poor resources and climate
love2 - hello Adam.....welcome......how do you feel about how popular crocs and gators have become as "pets"?
AdamB - Well, crocs and gators can make good "captives" IF you are willing to spend a very large amount of money setting them up properly and have the space and experience to look after a big, dangerous animal. They do not make good "pets" however, in the "pet" sense
MsTT - Adam - we talked about a project involving a 20 year study of I think it was johnstoni. How is that coming along? Also, I have an Xmas card for ya - http://members.xoom.com/piscivorus/xmas.html
AdamB - Funding! The will is there to do it, but we're lacking the resources to organize a large contingent of people to go and catch them. Any volunteers from here? :)
MsTT - You know I've been in line for awhile already, Adam. :)
Anja - I will go visit TT and do it!
AdamB - It would be 3 months in the field catching every single C. johnstoni in a fairly large water catchment. A lot of work, a lot of mossies, but fun :)
AdamB - I still haven't forgotten about it
kcaj - mossies?
AdamB - mosquitos
reptiluvr - Do you chase down crocs Crocodile Hunter style or do you use a different, safer method? Like in the movie Lake Placid, can you really use an underwater microphone to attract a female croc that's in the water?
reptiluvr - the mic sounded like little baby crocs making their "barks"
AdamB - We don't chase crocs here, no. Safety is paramount, and nobody has been bitten here. We use an appropriate trapping method (e.g. rope trap, modified harpoon, noose) and usually sedatives to reduce stress (like Lake Placid)
AdamB - Yes, you can use an underwater mic to attract crocs, although not the hatchling noises - you'd generally use low frequency noises (like gator bellows)
AdamB - Last time someone tried that here, croc came out of the water, grabbed the loudspeaker, and made off with it in her jaws :)
AdamB - I'm trying it myself in March
MsTT - just does the noises by mouth, no mike needed.
reptiluvr - well in lake placid the croc came and got half the guy holding the mic!
TheTengu - How do you feel about crocodiles and alligators, personally
AdamB - How do I feel about them? I love them. :) I've been obsessed with them since I was 6, and I gave up what I had in the UK to come to Australia to work with them. I live in a tiny hut, but I'm happy. Aim is to educate people about crocs, from all levels (management to education generally)
AdamB - They're magnificent creatures, and they've been seriously underestimated for so long. Now we're discovering just how incredible they are (e.g. heart is incredible advanced, sensory system is incredible, brain is far more capable than we thought it was)
AdamB - I enjoy telling people how being "cold blooded" makes them far more efficient and resistant to change than those furry mammal creatures who waste energy and have to spend their entire lives replenishing it. Crocs can go 18 months without a bite to eat. Oh, I love it. ;)
JFORKS - are you familiar with Egg flavoring, Jon Coote and the article he authored located at http://www.kingsnake.com/chat/egg.html? If so could you give us your thoughts egg flavoring and it's possible applications for crocodilians.
AdamB - egg flavoring? What, you mean application of food flavors to eggs during incubation?
JFORKS - he would introduce flavoring to eggs in order to predicate what flavors hatchlings would prefer as food
AdamB - Yes, that research was done here for crocs (Helga Heake from Belfast in UK). She found that strawberry food flavoring, dripped onto eggs every day, made the hatchlings prefer food which was strawberry in flavor :)
AdamB - Implications? Feed your captives with strawberry cheesecake.
AdamB - But seriously - I think it may have something to do with "imprinting" and learning to recognize the adult female. Nile crocs will urinate on the nest during incubation, and this will impregnate the eggs with her scent. Useful for group cohesion, as crocs look after their young for several weeks or months
AdamB - Juvenile crocs also secrete oils from their backs (a set of paired glands) which could also be used to recognize siblings and conspecifics. These don't function in adults. Nobody has shown their role, but the evidence is quite strong.
AdamB - PLUS they have musk glands on their chin and within the cloaca. Chemical signals play an important role in crocs, so it wouldn't surprise me.
JFORKS - thank you very much
animals2go - I lost a small American gator from losing my heat source... she was very cold when I found her and warming her up didn't do the trick... I used warm water to try and warm her slowly. It was too slow apparently. Can you suggest a better way to warm up with out warming too fast?
AdamB - Hmmm, that's unusual. Gators are normally very cold tolerant. Larger once can survive under freezing ice. Warming up - well, you could use a heat pad or a light bulb heater, but put it on a rheostat - in other words, low voltage to start with (low heat), and gradually increase it. Warm water may have been too much, although you could have put him in cold water and gradually heated the water.
AdamB - Hatchlings are much more vulnerable to heat changes, though - once you get a croc past its first year, its chances of survival go up exponentially
animals2go - So it is more likely I did warm up too fast then?
AdamB - Possibly - without knowing the temp difference between gator and water, I don't know, but you have to be really careful doing that.
Anja - have you ever worked with Steve Erwin? And how do you feel about his ways?
AdamB - Ah, the dreaded Steve Irwin question :)
AdamB - No, I haven't worked with him. I think he does a great job getting people interested in crocs, and for that I thank him. He doesn't give you a very accurate impression of croc biology, capture techniques or conservation status, but then I don't think that's the point of his shows. He says a few rather silly things, but overall the impact is positive.
AdamB - Dreaded because everyone asks me that question, and I have to be careful what I say ;)
BrianT - do you think dwarf caiman make good beginner crocodilians? also, how is there temperament?
AdamB - I don't think any crocodilians make good beginner crocodilians :) Many people bite off more than they can chew, and so do the crocs :) However, if you're deadly serious about it (and rich) then yes, dwarf caimans are the best species.
AdamB - Temperament varies - most of the ones I've seen have been fairly skittish and jumpy, but not outright aggressive like salties are. It's hard to predict croc temperament (apart from "vicious") but it varies from one croc to another, and also depends on how you socialize them. I have seen tame crocs, but most would happily eat you, your dog, and your dog's fleas.
AdamB - The most aggressive croc species is probably the Cuban croc, yet I have seen a tame, "pet" Cuban croc - you should have seen the scars its owner received to get it that way, though
AdamB - You've got to work with them... from hatchlings... and hope you're lucky.
JoeRom - I came in late so forgive me if this has been asked already. How are the croc farms doing and are the wild numbers more controllable now?
AdamB - Most croc species are not considered at risk, although they're still all listed on CITES and IUCN mainly due to similarity of their appearance to other crocs (to tighten trade restrictions).
AdamB - Those which are still at risk at those which don't have any kind of management plan, generally. Ranching of wild populations has been very important for crocs, and setting up a farming industry. I might not like the idea that selling croc handbags can save crocs (because i love crocs) but it works very well, so it gets my full support.
AdamB - Biggest problem with crocs is: how do you convince local people (who hate crocs) to conserve them? The Northern Territory in Australia is a classic example - started off protecting them, but then people got eaten, so it switched to wild harvest of eggs - which the crocs could easily sustain - and suddenly an industry developed. Crocs were worth something - people then realized crocs were valuable to the territory and support them.
AdamB - Tourism is now incredibly important here. Amazing turnaround from 20 years ago when everyone wanted them extinct.
kevinB - i once went to a petstore/a guys hobby house and he had 4 alligators with one caiman and the caiman(spectacled however its spelled) was around 2/3 the size of the alligators(American) and the caiman looked really like its not getting along with these guys and like deprived from them hiding in the corner out of the water all scrunched up.Is he just scared of them because of different sizes or species?,Also would that be a health problem ?
kevinB - have being picked on him or something?
AdamB - Stress, kevin. Bigger crocs dominate smaller ones - they should always be kept in similar sized groupings, and even then it's common for one to dominate all the best basking areas and the best feeding spots. If those gators were larger, they may kill the caiman.
kevinB - yeah that's the word i was looking for heh
AdamB - Keeping crocs together, even of different species, can be done if they're of similar size when young. As they get older, territoriality really starts to develop. So, small crocs ok together, bigger ones need separating.
kcaj - dr> i have the opportunity to work with a leucistic and true albino alligator, and i heard that there skin was real sensitive to sun although we have him in direct sun( he eats better), well is their skin really that sensitive? and also how many albino CROCS do you know of? alligators out there?(albinos)
AdamB - Everyone says that albinos get sunburned, so I suppose everyone believes it. :) Actually, I have seen a white croc with what appeared to be burning on it, but I had no idea whether it was sunburn. I've seen reptiles sunburned before, so I'd say it could be a problem. Generally, it depends on the latitude you keep them at as well.
kcaj - Miami Florida? near Joe's house
AdamB - I've seen albino / leucistic gators, spectacled caiman, Siamese crocodile, saltwater crocodile, freshwater crocodile. We see a *lot* of hypomelanistic crocs here (lighter, "blond" crocodiles). generally, they get eaten in the wild ("Oh look! A croc")
AdamB - Burning can occur in albinos, yes, but of course i burn in the sun as well (I have very little melanin!), but I can control it carefully - which I think is what should be done, because sunlight is very beneficial.
love2 - you mentioned that their hearts were far advanced....what did you mean?
AdamB - Everyone used to think that croc hearts were intermediate between reptile hearts and mammals hearts because they had a "hole" dividing the aorta
AdamB - Now, we realize that this is a variable caliber valve which can accurately control the amount of blood passing from one side of the heart to the other
AdamB - It's an adaptation to diving, so the crocodile can completely change the blood flow through the heart and divert more blood with oxygen reserves away from the areas where it's not needed (pulmonary system) and into essential areas
AdamB - A spiral valve in the right ventricle assists with this process. Crocs can stay underwater from 15 mins to 2 hours normally, and up to 8 hours when very, very cool
AdamB - Pretty neat :)
love2 - wow......cool
MsTT - Adam, what happened with those data cylinders you had to recover early from the croc stomachs?
AdamB - They were put back in, MsTT :) They're still busy logging female body temperatures as we speak. I'll be removing them again in March, hopefully.
MsTT - Why did they corrode?
AdamB - They didn't corrode - crocs with stones in their stomachs smashed up the casing, but those without were fine. We had to replace some of them and use a new acrylic coating, but they're intact. A few got regurgitated / passed though. Need to work on the design.
MsTT - Thanks, Adam.
RazorBackHerps - Do you think anything can be done to save the American croc
AdamB - The American croc is doing pretty well, I think - ok, it's hanging on in Florida, but numbers are recovering slowly. Florida is really the edge of its range, though. In Central and S America is it more abundant. In Cuba, they're everywhere!
AdamB - Most croc problems are specific to certain areas, where numbers are depleted, but often populations as a whole are not too badly off... with one or two notable exceptions
AdamB - I think the guys in Florida have done an excellent job :)
RazorBackHerps - that good news adam
AdamB - Yes, I love a good success story - conservation can be so depressing at times, so we're led to believe
tLadyTengu - Putting aside thoughts of anthropomorphism...>
tLadyTengu - And looking at emotions as a motivator
tLadyTengu - do you think crocs and alligators have emotions, like say
AdamB - Whoa - a deep question!
tLadyTengu - a mother croc feeling love for babies she carries around in her mouth
tLadyTengu - :)
AdamB - Hmmmm... Much as I've love to think that they do, I think it would be very hard to prove. Crocs during courtship are so incredible tender to one another, but 10 mins after the male has finished rooting, he'll snap at the female if she comes too close
tLadyTengu - Sounds like people (ha)
AdamB - I honestly don't know, LadyTengu - it's something which I'd secretly like to think they did, but which scientifically I think they do not
AndrewS - Hi Adam, can you define *lots* as it refers to numbers of hypomelanistic crocs in the wild, and are they salties or freshies or both?
AdamB - Hmmm... perhaps "lots" is a bit of an overstatement. :) I see hypomelanistic crocs quite frequently, at least several times a nesting season, with some clutches having say half a dozen hypos in there.
AdamB - There was a story in the Cairns Post this week about what appeared to be a hypomelanistic croc. Certainly nothing like as rare as a leucistic.
animals2go - I believe you said earlier that a croc is smarter than has been believed... I have had success training them to do simple commands, opening mouth on command, coming when called that sort of thing... do you think it helps to use that as exercise when captive or should they be left alone in that regard?
AdamB - Everyone keeps saying "Mate, these crocs are so bloody stupid, they've got a brain the size of me thumb" yet in fact crocs are the smartest of all the reptiles - well, according to various tests. Varanids are pretty with it, too.
AdamB - But recently, a neurobiologist in the US found evidence that crocs have a much higher density of neurones in their brain, giving them a greater neural capacity than was originally realized
AdamB - Yet more evidence that first impressions do not necessarily last! We see that crocs are very social animals and are capable of fast learning. This is not the mark of a stupid animal.
animals2go - Wow...and makes me feel that much worse I lost an animal through both mechanical and my own failure...thanks!
animals2go - I meant thanks for the info!!!
BrianT - what's the longest croc on record and how long was it?
AdamB - Long authenticated croc: 6.2 meters (20 odd feet) from Papua New Guinea - a saltwater crocodile
AdamB - Biggest claimed one: 33 feet. Biggest claimed one that might possibly not be bull: 27 feet from Norman River in Queensland. I still don't believe it, though - they brought back no evidence that it existed, and surely if you shot one that size you'd at least bring back a foot or something?!
goannaman - Are there any huge crocs left in Australia?
AdamB - I'm sure there are, yes. Most of the really big crocs were shot out during the hunting, which ended in 1971 to 1974. Small crocs from that are are now getting to be very big indeed. However, max size for most salties is around 16 foot. 18 feet plus is just really unusual and not normal.
goannaman - thanks
kevinB - i saw a croc hunter show where he was in like ponds of dried out parts of a river and he saw a croc with like netting over its head so at night he dived into the water and tried to find him and take it off wouldn't there be danger in that or would they not really care about a person in that situation?this isn't rarely regarding the irwin but more of a feeding habitat question like why would they not care about that or why did all of the crocs h
AdamB - Well, I don't want to speculate on how that shot was set up, but it depends on the size of the croc - was it a small croc, was the netting preventing the jaws from opening, how long has it been underwater, was it cool or warm?
kevinB - they were like 5-6-7 foot
AdamB - In some circumstances, you can safely get in the water with a croc - in others, you definitely cannot. You'd have to read the situation carefully.
goannaman - you guys don't believe that was natural, do you?
AdamB - In the Mary River, there's the biggest density of big salties anywhere in the world, yet people wade around in the water. Are they nuts? Probably, but the crocs are very well fed by large barramundi populations.
MsTT - Adam, what are your plans for the future? What crocodilians would you most like to study? And when do we get you out here in Florida again? ;), MsTT points out cheerfully that the opportunities for crocodilian work out here are really excellent. :)
AdamB - I'd love to go and do work on cataphractus and osteolaemus - nobody knows much about those species in the wild, yet they're in some danger. Salties are great, but in Australia they're nice and safe. Perhaps in another country where they're not - that's where i think effort can best be spent doing something positive for them.
AdamB - I'd love to study gators too - they're very neat, but I'd hate to see something like sinensis disappear off the planet without feeling that I'd tried to do something. Hehe - how corny does that sound, but I mean it. :)
AdamB - But TT, I'll see you in Florida eventually. :)
tLadyTengu - if crocodiles built a civilization what would it be like? lol
AdamB - Ancient Egypt - they had it good then
AdamB - Everyone worshipped Sobek, and made sacrifices
AdamB - Crocs were kept in temples and adorned with jewelry and fed honey and wine cakes
tLadyTengu - I have a little statue of Sobek
AdamB - Sounds pretty good to me
inlands - Adam hello from south oz.. do you think the dwarf freshy is a separate subsp or is it just dwarfed by its environment ?
AdamB - inlands: nobody really knows, to be honest. More work needs to be done on them, and dwarf Niles as well. However, the evidence that we have is that yes, they are indeed slightly dwarfed even if you take hatchlings and raise them separately (which has been done - a zoo down south somewhere, can't remember the name)
inlands - thanks
JeffB - adam do u want to keep going?
AdamB - Ah, a free plug!
AdamB - Yes, don't forget to visit http://crocodilian.com - and for those interested in captive care there's the Captive Care FAQ at http://crocodilian.com/crocfaq
MsTT - Dwarfism shows up in alligators, too. We have a number of individuals in captivity who have been fed well, but who will never grow beyond small juvenile size. It's an interesting thing to study.
AdamB - msTT: That's the same with any croc species - runt syndrome, it's called. These freshies are, we think, different to that
JeffB - adam I have a question ...
AdamB - Go for it Jeff
JeffB - If I was swimming.......
JeffB - and I was attacked by a croc or gator
JeffB - what should I do....
AdamB - If you're being approached by a croc or a gator, I honestly think the best strategy is to stay dead still, and possibly even dive underwater. Thrashing around will get you noticed even faster.
JeffB - can they smell blood in the water like a shark?
AdamB - If you get bitten... well, a swift whack on the head might do the trick. Poking the eyes is often no good because they press down into the skull naturally. Poking the nostrils may work. Judging from their reaction when we sex them, sticking you finger up their vent might be a good idea too!
AdamB - Seriously, injuries in the mouth also dissuade them - scratching or poking the tongue / palatal valve can help, although you might lose you're hand doing that
RazorBackHerps - don't think I want to get that close
MsTT - We whack the ear flaps as a last resort. They *hate* that.
AdamB - Yes, they can detect blood in the water - in theory. Probably not as sensitive as a shark, but nobody has tested it
AdamB - Diving under is not as silly as it sounds - the croc can't see you, and can only detect your vibrations if you come close to it
AdamB - They have mechanical sensors around their jaws (look for their unshaven appearance - those are receptors). They detect pressure changes in the water, but their range is... fairly limited.
AdamB - They can easily feel footsteps on the land, though
AdamB - Diving under is not a tested theory, I might add
AdamB - JeffB: I think we should official wrap it up
JFORKS - Thank you for coming Adam
JFORKS - That was fantastic
inlands - thanks Adam
AdamB - JeffB: Just saying that I should wrap up now :)
JeffB - well thank you for being our guest tonight
JeffB - I want to thank everyone for participating in chat week99
AdamB - Anyone who wants to keep in touch, just visit crocodilian.com - my email is on there
JFORKS - as do I of course
JeffB - I look forward to seeing you at ChatWeek2000
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