One of the largest of all crocodilians, the Nile crocodile weighs up to 900kg and can grow to a length of over 6m (their average weight is 410kg and average length is 4m). The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is quite widespread throughout sub-Saharan Africa. This large reptile is a supremely adapted aquatic predator with a streamlined body, a long and powerful tail, webbed hind feet and long, powerful jaws ideally suited for grabbing and holding on to prey.
Nile crocodiles were worshipped in Ancient Egypt and the god Sobek had the head of a crocodile. Mummified crocodiles and their eggs have been found in the tombs of Ancient Egyptians. The Ancient Egyptians hunted the Nile crocodile using harpoons. Attempts were also made to tame crocodiles and they were often kept in the houses of rich people where they were decorated with jewels and allowed to roam freely. The Ancient Egyptians believed that praying to Sobek would protect them against being attacked by Nile crocodiles.
The diet of the Nile crocodile is mainly fish, but he will attack almost anything unfortunate enough to cross his path, including zebras, small hippos, porcupines, birds and other crocodiles. He will also scavenge carrion, and can eat up to half his bodyweight in one feeding.
One unusual characteristic of this fearsome predator is his caring nature as a parent. Where most reptiles lay their eggs and move on, mother and father Nile crocs ferociously guard their nests until the eggs hatch, and they will often roll the eggs gently in their mouths to help hatching babies emerge.
At the brink of extinction
Hunted to near extinction between the 1940s and 1960s, local and international conservation efforts have helped them rebound in most areas. In some regions numbers have dropped greatly due to pollution, hunting and habitat loss.
Crocodile teeth are hollow in the sockets and are often lost when a crocodile is biting prey. As a result, a crocodile can replace up to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime.
Text: Shannon Wilding
The full article appears in the September issue of Animaltalk.