Evolution

Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World

Posted on in Evolution · Exhibit · Featured · Fossil · Live Animals

A new exhibit opening Saturday, Feb. 3, lets visitors get face-to-snout with live crocodilians, a group of reptiles that has evolved and thrived for 200 million years thanks to their brute strength, keen senses and murderous instincts.

Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World features nearly a dozen live crocodiles, alligators and caimans, plus plenty of activities for the whole family.

The American alligator is one of almost a dozen life species featured in the exhibit. Photo by Joe McDonald

Crocs introduces visitors to one of the most exciting and primal groups of animals through the presentation of amazing live creatures, realistic croc models—including one that’s 18 feet long!— engaging interactive activities, and informative videos. The exhibit explores the rich and complex lives of alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials—their evolutionary history, biology and behavior, as well as their precarious relationship to people.

“They may look scary to some people, but these wondrous animals have found a way to survive and flourish for millions of years, since the days of the dinosaurs,” said Academy President and CEO Scott Cooper. “It’s important to understand these elegant predators and to find ways to share the planet.”

Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World will be on view through May 6. The exhibit is divided into three sections: prehistoric crocodyliforms; the biology and behavior of living species; and the conflicts and compromises between crocs and human cultures.

At 18 feet long, this saltwater crocodile, dubbed Gomek by villagers in New Guinea, was thought to eat humans. Scientists aren’t so sure about that. Photo by Peeling’s Reptiland.

A major draw are the live crocs basking in naturalistic habitats with flowing water, foliage, mood lighting, and other features that keep them thriving and content. The living species include the broad-snouted caiman, Siamese crocodile, West African dwarf crocodile, American alligator, and a nest of baby alligators.

Visitors will learn that some of the species are threatened by habitat loss and other factors due to their proximity to people.

For example, Siamese crocodiles are among the most endangered crocodilian species and may be extinct throughout much of their range. Crocodile farms in Asia have crossed this species with the much larger saltwater crocodile and breed thousands of hybrids each year for the leather industry. Conservation groups are scrambling to save the last wild populations of Siamese crocs, which are threatened by habitat loss and construction of hydro-electric dams.

The Siamese crocodile is among the most endangered crocodilian species. Photo by Joe McDonald

And then there’s the life-size model of Gomek. At nearly 18 feet long it is the largest crocodile ever exhibited in the U.S. The saltwater crocodile was caught on the Fly River in New Guinea in the 1960s. Local villagers said it was a man-eater, but later it became a symbol for crocodile conservation in the U.S. and Australia.

At Crocs, visitors will enjoy interactive experiences where they can:

-Create a 3-D animation of a long-extinct croc.

-Learn to speak “croc.”

-Use a virtual field notebook to assemble ancient crocs.

-Work “The Social Gator” interactive to explore how crocs communicate with sight, sound, smell and touch.

-Manipulate a modified force gauge to test their strength against a croc.Crocodilians have flourished for more than 200 million years. The group once included a rich diversity of forms—from galloping land predators and jumping insect eaters to pug-nosed herbivores and dolphin-like pelagic hunters.

Modern crocs range from diminutive forest dwellers to behemoths that can eat a person. They are specialized as stealthy aquatic predators with rugged bodies, keen senses, and incredible strength. But crocs also live complex social lives. They communicate with a range of sounds and subtle postures, and provide their young with tender parental care.

One message the exhibit imparts is that the future of crocodilians depends on people’s willingness to share space with these large animals. “We want our visitors to take home the message of conservation and respect for wildlife and to apply it to their own communities,” Cooper said.

Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World was created by Peeling Productions at Clyde Peeling’s Reptiland, Allenwood, Pa.

 

Post by Carolyn Belardo

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