Answers to Some Nagging Questions

Thursday, January 17, 2008

If an angry croc charges me, can I outrun it?

"People often ask [that], and the answer is yes!" Big Gecko's Adam Britton says. "Don't bother trying to zigzag while you run, though -- just cut a nice, straight line away from the crocodile as fast as you can, and you'll easily beat it. The danger that crocodiles pose is not their ability to run after you, but their ability to strike before you even know what's happening."

Is it true that you can put a gator to sleep by rubbing its belly?

"Belly rubbing," the National's Zoo's Sean Henderson says, "refers to tonic immobility. It's a state of hypnotism generated by flipping the animal on its back and fully extending its neck" and stroking its underbelly.

This behavior also has been observed in mammals and sharks. "Tonic immobility is generally brought about in an animal that is under heavily stressful conditions," he says. "Don't try this at home!"

If a crocodile sheds tears after gulping down a bunny, is it sad about what it did?

Like humans, crocodiles and alligators have tear ducts that lubricate the eye surface. "Tears can accumulate when the eye dries out on land and can be visible, and the crocodile can be seen 'crying,' but this doesn't have anything to do with the old legend about showing 'insincere remorse,' " Britton says. It's the same with alligators. In fact, when they bite, even more tears can be squeezed out. But that doesn't mean they're unhappy with their dinner choice.

Can an alligator run on its hind legs?

Alligators and crocodiles move in a number of ways. They can do a belly-walk slither, a belly-off-the-ground "high walk," a gallop and even a jump. "Some crocodiles do have the ability to stand on their rear legs for . . . a few seconds," Britton says, "particularly when trying to reach something above them, like food. Not all species have the muscle power to do this, but American alligators can do it. So can Cuban crocodiles. This is hardly 'running on their back legs.' It's more like a brief wheelie."


© 2008 The Washington Post Company