Mugger crocodile

Crocodylus palustris

TAXONOMY

Crocodylus palustris Lesson, 1834, Ganges River, India. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: Marsh crocodile; French: Crocodile a front large; German: Sumpfkrokodil; Spanish: Cocodrilo marismeno.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

Relatively stocky reptiles, adult males average 10 ft (3 m). Adult females average 7.4 ft (2.25 m), and may reach 10 ft (3 m). The maximum size on record is 18 ft (5.5 m). Gray, olive, or brownish above with dark markings that become less distinct as the animal gets older. The underside is white or yellowish. The dorsal scutes are prominent and often quite irregular in arrangement, giving the reptile an untidy appearance. Presence of large postoccipital scutes differentiate this species from the sympatric (in India and Sri Lanka) saltwater crocodile.

DISTRIBUTION

Mainly India and Sri Lanka. Small populations still occur in southeastern Iran, and in parts of Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, and Bangladesh.

HABITAT

A very adaptable crocodile, muggers are found in clear hill streams up to 1,975 ft (600 m) above sea level, as well as in sewage-treatment ponds, large rivers, lakes, swamps, and even saline habitats.

BEHAVIOR

These are social animals. Unless under hunting pressure, muggers are conspicuous, basking in the open to thermoregulate. Younger muggers are more solitary and cryptic. Muggers can migrate overland for 6 mi (10 km) or more to find water during the dry season. They also dig horizontal tunnels 33 ft (10 m) or deeper in lake and river banks to allow them to survive dry periods and even severe drought.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

Muggers are opportunistic feeders. The diet of the young consists of insects, crabs, frogs, fish, carrion, as well as occasional small reptiles, birds, and mammals. Mature muggers over 6.5 ft (2 m) long catch larger prey such as mammals (from monkeys to deer), water birds, and large catfishes. Near human habitation, muggers will sometimes take farm animals and birds. Muggers have rarely been known to prey on humans.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

The annual mating season is December/January on mainland south Asia, variable in Sri Lanka. After about 40 days of gestation, the female mugger digs a hole nest and lays 20-40 eggs between March and May, the number increasing with her size. The female typically remains close to the nest for the 60-70 days of incubation to release and care for the young.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species has vanished from most of its range. In 2002 there were over 8,000 crocodiles at various rearing stations, including India's largest breeding center, the Madras Crocodile Bank, with no protected areas to release them. The mugger crocodile is strictly protected in the seven countries in which it occurs. The species is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List and is on CITES Appendix I. Estimated wild population is 5,000-10,000.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

When muggers were still plentiful, their eggs and meat were important food resources for many of south Asia's indigenous people. Attacks on humans are rare, but muggers are treated with caution, respect, and sometimes animosity by local people. A well-planned and managed industry based on muggers as a sustainable resource would benefit both humans and crocodiles in south Asia. ♦

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