Saltwater crocodile: myths and legends



by LORENZO CIOTTI

Saltwater crocodile: myths and legends

Saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile. For some decades its range has shrunk a lot, in fact it is currently extinct in Thailand, Laos and Vietnam. In the rest of Indochina it is increasingly rare. This species is not endangered as it is still common in Papua New Guinea and northern Australia.

Isolated individuals can be found at a considerable distance from their usual habitat, even beyond 1000 km, as in Japan. There are various tales of crocodiles with dimensions over eight meters, but they must be evaluated carefully.

The British Museum holds a skull of a marine crocodile that is said to have belonged to a 10.1 m long animal captured in the Bay of Bengal. However, the measurement of the skull (which is about 1/7 of the length of the entire crocodile) leads to the conclusion that the actual dimensions must have been in a range between 4.5 and 5.5 m.

The Kanika family of Orissa in India keeps the skull of a marine crocodile killed, it is said, in 1926, which seems to have been around 7.6 m. The data, in the absence of the skeleton, is however not certain. Some sources indicate the discovery of an 8.90 m specimen in 1997, of which, however, the authenticity has never been confirmed.

In Australia there are tales of old hunters that speak of prey over eight meters in length, but without precise and certified measurements they are destined to be classified as legends. It was probably once relatively easy to find large marine crocodiles in the swamps of Australia and Lower Asia.

However, the merciless hunting of the first half of the twentieth century decimated these specimens.

The real size

A specimen of adult male of marine crocodile reaches the 3,5-6 m of length for 200-1000 kg of weight. The females are smaller, with an average size of around 3 m.

Like all crocodiles, it grows throughout its life, albeit at a faster rate during the years of its youth and more slowly upon reaching full maturity. The maximum ascertained length is 7.1 meters. There are various tales of crocodiles over eight meters in size but they are often classified as legends.

Males of over six meters are however rare, particularly after the intensive hunting of the first half of the 20th century, which exterminated the larger animals. In general, however, captive crocodiles and hybrids grow more and faster.

For example, the Yai crocodile, a hybrid of C. porosus and C. siamensis held in captivity in Bangkok, at the age of 30 (in 2000) reached 6 meters in length and 1,200 kg in weight, becoming the largest crocodile kept in captivity.

Today its growth has slowed but continues. According to researchers Gordon Grigg and Carl Gans, Australian marine crocodiles can reach 7 meters in length and a weight of 2 t.