The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus), also known as the estuarine or Indo-Pacific crocodile, is the largest of all living reptiles. This is a formidable, opportunistic and adaptable predator which occurs over a considerable range. It is found in suitable habitats from Northern Australia through Southeast Asia to the eastern coast of India, historically ranging as far west as off the eastern coast of Africa and as far east as waters off of Japan. Occasionally, saltwater crocodiles will attack and kill humans, although conflicts are generally one-sided in favour of humans, as this crocodilian has a highly valued hide.
Anatomy and morphology
The saltwater crocodile has a longer muzzle than the mugger crocodile; its length is twice its width at the base. The saltwater crocodile has fewer armour plates on its neck than other crocodilians. On this species, a pair of ridges run from the eyes along the centre of the snout. The scales are oval in shape and the scutes are small compared to other species. The adult saltwater crocodile's broad body contrasts with that of most other lean crocodiles, leading to early unverified assumptions the reptile was an alligator. The head is very large. Skull lengths more than 75 centimetres (30 in) have been confirmed for the species and mandibular length has been reported up to 98.3 centimetres (38.7 in) (female skull lengths of over 50 centimetres (20 in) are exceptional). The teeth are also long, with the largest teeth (the fourth tooth from the front on the lower jaw) having been measured to 9 centimetres (3.5 in) in length. If detached from the body, the head of a very large male crocodile can reportedly scale over 200 kg (440 lb) alone.
Young saltwater crocodiles are pale yellow in colour with black stripes and spots on the body and tail. This colouration lasts for several years until the crocodile matures into an adult. The colour as an adult is much darker greenish-drab, with a few lighter tan or grey areas sometimes apparent. Several colour variations are known and some adults may retain fairly pale skin whereas others may be so dark as to appear blackish. The ventral surface is white or yellow in colour on crocodiles of all ages. Stripes are present on the lower sides of the body but do not extend onto the belly. The tail is grey with dark bands.
Newly hatched saltwater crocodiles measure about 25 to 30 centimetres (9.8–12 in) long and weigh an average of 70 grams (2.5 oz). By the time of their second year, a young crocodile will attain 1 metre (3.3 ft) and a weight of 2.5 kilograms (5.5 lb). Males reach sexual maturity at around 3.3 metres (11 ft) at around 16 years of age, while females reach sexual maturity at 2.1 metres (6.9 ft) and 12–14 years. An adult male saltwater crocodile's weight is 400 to 1,000 kilograms (880–2,200 lb) and length is normally 4.5 to 5.5 metres (15–18 ft). However, mature males can exceed 6 metres (20 ft) and weigh more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb), and this species is the only extant crocodilian to regularly reach or exceed 4.8 metres (16 ft). Weight can vary enormously based upon the condition and age; older males tend to outweigh younger ones since they maintain prime territories with access to better, more abundant prey. For example, crocodiles at 4.8 metres (16 ft) long have ranged in mass variously from 522 kilograms (1,150 lb) to 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb). This species has the greatest sexual dimorphism of any modern crocodilian, with the females being much smaller than males. Typical female body lengths range from 2.3 to 3.5 metres (8–11 ft). Mature females kept at the Australia Zoo typically weigh around 100–150 kilograms (220–330 lb). A wild female of a median length of 2.7 metres (8.9 ft) will reportedly weigh about 80 kg (180 lb). The largest female on record measured about 4.2 metres (14 ft). The mean weight of the species as a whole is roughly 450 kilograms (1,000 lb).
The largest size saltwater crocodiles can reach is the subject of considerable controversy. For some time, the longest crocodile ever measured snout-to-tail and verified was the skin of a dead crocodile, which was 6.2 metres (20 ft) long. As skins tend to shrink slightly after removal from the carcass, this crocodile's living length was estimated at 6.3 metres (21 ft), and it could have weighed more than 1,000 kilograms (2,200 lb). Other crocodiles of this species of over 6.1 m (20 ft) have either been reliably reported or authenticated in the past. The official record length for a crocodile from Australia was 6.15 metres (20.2 ft) for a specimen killed in the McArthur River in June 1960. Another Australian giant shot 16 years after that, an old male nicknamed "Big Gator" that had become a habitual predator of local cattle, was found after being shot to have measured 6.1 metres (20 ft) and weighed 1,097 kilograms (2,420 lb). The record size in Papua New Guinea was 6.32 metres (20.7 ft) for a specimen shot in May 1966 along the northeastern coast. This specimen had a belly girth of 2.74 metres (9.0 ft) Another notable New Guinea giant, which drowned after entanglement in a fisherman's net in 1979, was a specimen measuring 6.2 metres (20 ft) with a skull length of 72 centimetres (28 in).
There have been numerous claims of larger crocodiles, sometimes far exceeding known sizes, as is expected of an enormous reptile. James R. Montgomery, who ran a plantation near to the Lower Kinabatangan Segama Wetlands in Borneo from 1926-1932, claimed to have netted, killed and examined numerous crocodiles well over 6.1 metres (20 ft) there, including a specimen he claims measured 10 metres (33 ft). However, no one scentifically confirmed any of Montgomery's specimens and no voucher specimens are known. The skull of crocodile shot in Odisha, India, which was claimed to measure 7.6-metre (25 ft) in life, when given scholarly examination, was thought to have come from a crocodile of a length no greater than 7 metres (23 ft). Other saltwater crocodiles in the 7.6-to-9-metre (25 to 30 ft) range have been claimed: the crocodile shot in the Bay of Bengal in 1840, reported at 10 metres (33 ft); another killed in 1823 at Jalajala on the main island of Luzon in the Philippines reported at 8.2 metres (27 ft); a reported 7.6 metres (25 ft) crocodile was killed in the Hooghly River in the Alipore District of Calcutta. However, examinations of these animals' skulls actually indicated animals ranging from 6 to 6.7 metres (20–22.0 ft). A crocodile shot in Queensland in 1957 was reported to be 8.63 metres (28.3 ft) long, but no verified measurements were made and no remains of this crocodile exist. A "replica" of this crocodile has been made as a tourist attraction. Many other unconfirmed reports of crocodiles exceeding 8 metres (28+ ft) have been made but these are highly unlikely.
With recent restoration of saltwater crocodile habitat and reduced poaching, 7-metre (23 ft) crocodiles possibly are alive today. Guinness had accepted a claim of a 7-metre (23 ft), 2,000 kg (4,400 lb) male saltwater crocodile living within Bhitarkanika Park in the state of Odisha, India, although, due to the difficulty of trapping and measuring a very large living crocodile, the accuracy of these dimensions has yet to be verified.
In September 2011, a 6.17 metres (20.2 ft) saltwater crocodile was captured alive in the Philippines, making it one of the largest specimens ever reliably measured snout-to-tail. This specimen, nicknamed "Lolong" and weighing roughly 1,075 kilograms (2,370 lb), has a past as a possible man-eater and is being kept alive as an attraction in a local zoo.  Lolong died on 10 February 2013.
The saltwater crocodile is one of the three crocodilians found in India, the other two being the more widespread, smaller Mugger crocodile and the narrow-snouted, fish-eating Gharial. Apart from the eastern coast of India, the saltwater crocodile is extremely rare in the Indian subcontinent. A huge population of saltwater crocodiles (consisting of many large adults, including a 7-metre male) is present within the Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary of Odisha and they are known to be present in smaller numbers throughout the Indian and Bangladesh portions of the Sundarbans.
In northern Australia (which includes the northernmost parts of the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland) the saltwater crocodile is thriving, particularly in the multiple river systems near Darwin (such as the Adelaide, Mary and Daly Rivers, along with their adjacent billabongs and estuaries) where large individuals of more than 5 metres (16 ft) in length are not uncommon. The saltwater crocodile population in Australia is estimated at somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 adults. In Australia, the species co-exists with the smaller, narrow-snouted Johnston's or freshwater crocodile. Their range extends from Broome in Western Australia through the entire Northern Territory coast all the way down to Rockhampton in Queensland. The Alligator Rivers in the Arnhem Land region are misnamed due to the resemblance of the saltwater crocodile to alligators as compared to freshwater crocodiles, which also inhabit the Northern Territory. In New Guinea they are also common, existing within the coastal reaches of virtually every river system in the country, along with all estuaries and mangroves. There the overlap in range with the rarer, less aggressive New Guinea Crocodile. They are also present in varying numbers throughout the Bismarck Archipelago, the Kai Islands, the Aru Islands, the Maluku Islands, and many other islands within the region including Timor, and most islands within the Torres Strait.
The saltwater crocodile was historically found throughout the South-east Asia but is now extinct throughout much of this range. This species has not been reported in the wild for decades in most of Indochina and is extinct in Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and possibly Cambodia. The status of this species is critical within much of Myanmar, but there is a stable population of many large adults present in the Irrawaddy Delta. It is probable that the only country in Indochina still harbouring wild populations of this species is Myanmar. Although saltwater crocodiles were once very common in the Mekong Delta (from where they disappeared in the 1980s) and other river systems, the future of this species in Indochina is now looking grim. However, it is also the least likely of crocodilians to become globally extinct due to its wide distribution and almost pre-colonial population sizes in Northern Australia and New Guinea.
The population is sporadic in Indonesia and Malaysia with some areas harbouring large populations (Borneo and Sumatra, for example) and others with very small, at-risk populations (e.g., Peninsular Malaysia). Despite the close proximity to the crocodile hot-bed of northern Australia, crocodiles no longer exist in Bali. This species is also reportedly extinct on Lombok, Komodo and most of Java. A small population may remain within Ujung Kulon National Park in western Java. The saltwater crocodile is also present in very limited parts of the South Pacific, with an average population in the Solomon Islands, a very small and soon to be extinct population in Vanuatu (where the population officially stands at only three) and a decent but at-risk population (which may be rebounding) in Palau. Saltwater crocodiles once ranged as far west as the east coast of Africa at the Seychelles Islands. These crocodiles were once believed to be a population of Nile crocodiles, but they were later proven to be Crocodylus porosus.
Because of its tendency to travel very long distances at sea, individual saltwater crocodiles occasionally show up in areas far outside of their typical range. Vagrant individuals have historically been reported on New Caledonia, Iwo Jima, Fiji, and even in the relatively frigid Sea of Japan (thousands of miles from their native territory.) In late 2008/early 2009 a handful of wild saltwater crocodiles were verified to be living within the river systems of Fraser Island, hundreds of kilometres from, and in much cooler water than, their normal Queensland range. It was discovered that these crocodiles did indeed migrate south to the island from northern Queensland during the warmer wet season and presumably returned to the north upon the seasonal temperature drop. Despite the surprise and shock within the Fraser Island public, this is apparently not new behaviour, and in the distant past wild crocodiles had been reported occasionally appearing as far south as Brisbane during the warmer wet season.
Saltwater crocodiles generally spend the tropical wet season in freshwater swamps and rivers, moving downstream to estuaries in the dry season, and sometimes travelling far out to sea. Crocodiles compete fiercely with each other for territory, with dominant males in particular occupying the most eligible stretches of freshwater creeks and streams. Junior crocodiles are thus forced into the more marginal river systems and sometimes into the ocean. This explains the large distribution of the animal (ranging from the east coast of India to northern Australia) as well as its being found in the odd places on occasion (such as the Sea of Japan). Like all crocodiles, they can survive for prolonged periods only in warm temperatures and crocodiles will seasonally vacate parts of Australia if cold spells hit.
Diet and behaviour
Generally very lethargic – a trait which helps it survive months at a time without food – the saltwater crocodile typically loiters in the water or basks in the sun through much of the day, preferring to hunt at night. A study of seasonal saltwater crocodile behaviour in Australia indicates they are more active and more likely to spend more time on land in the Australian summer and less active and spend relatively more time basking in the sun during the Australian winter.
The saltwater crocodile is an opportunistic apex predator capable of taking nearly any animal that enters its territory, either in the water or on dry land. Like most crocodilians, they are unpicky eaters who readily vary their prey selection based on availability but are not voracious eaters, as they are able to survive on relatively little food for a prolonged period. The saltwater crocodile may take animals of almost any variety as it becomes available to them and, due to the enormous power and size of the species, it may take the broadest of prey species of any modern crocodilian. Juveniles are restricted to feeding on smaller animals such as insects, amphibians, crustaceans, small reptiles, and fish. The larger the animal grows, the greater the variety of animals it includes in its diet, although relatively small aquatic prey (especially fish) make up an important part of the diet even in adults. Large adult saltwater crocodiles can potentially eat any animal within their range. Wild animals taken by adult crocodiles can range from small to large and formidable, including monkeys, kangaroos, wild boar, dingos, snakes, turtles, goannas, other lizards, amphibians, water buffalo, gaurs and even sharks Humans and any type of domestic livestock or pet may be taken opportunistically as prey. Ground-living birds (including emus) and any type of water bird may be preyed upon. Even swift flying birds and bats may be snatched if they come close to the surface of water. They are dominant over other crocodilians, regularly outcompeting and occasionally killing and eating other species, as has been recorded largely with freshwater crocodiles in Australia. Water buffalo and gaur which may weigh over a ton, are considered the largest prey taken by male crocodiles. Other predators within their range, like leopards and tigers are occasionally taken by adult crocodiles. Perhaps the Asian elephant is the only non-marine animal in this species' range that this crocodile has not been known to predate.
Saltwater crocodiles can swim at 15 to 18 miles per hour (6.7 to 8.0 m/s) in short bursts, around three times as fast as the fastest human swimmers, but when cruising they usually go at 2 to 3 mph (0.9 to 1.3 m/s). Saltwater crocodiles are capable of explosive bursts of speed when launching an attack from the water, but stories of crocodiles being faster than a race horse for short distances across land are little more than urban legend. At the water's edge, however, where they can combine propulsion from both feet and tail, their speed can be considerable, though eyewitness accounts are rare.
A crocodile usually waits for its prey to get close to the water's edge before striking, using its great strength to drag the animal back into the water. Many prey animals are killed by the impact of the great jaw pressure of the saltwater crocodile, although some animals are killed by drowning after the crocodile has pulled them into the water. It is an extremely powerful animal; in one case, a one-tonne Suffolk stallion known to haul over two tonnes was pulled into water to its demise by a large male saltwater crocodile. A large crocodile can crush a full-grown bovid's skull between its jaws. A 5.2 m (17 ft) long saltwater crocodile has been confirmed as having the strongest bite force ever recorded for an animal in a laboratory-setting. This average male was able to apply a bite-force value of 16,458 newtons (3,700 lbf), or the equivalent of 158,874 kilograms (350,260 lb) pounds per square inch (PSI), and thus surpassed the previous record of 9,452 newtons (2,125 lbf) made by a 3.9 metres (13 ft) long American alligator. The saltwater crocodile's typical hunting technique with large prey is known as the "death roll": it grabs onto the animal and rolls powerfully. This throws any struggling large animal off balance, making it easier to drag it into the water. Like all crocodilians, the sharp but peg-like teeth are well suited to seize and kill various prey, but they are not well-suited to tearing flesh off of large prey items as is the dentition and claws of many mammalian carnivores or the hooked bills and talons of raptorial birds. Whereas prey such as fish and crabs are swallowed whole, larger prey of the saltwater crocodile are thrashed around after they're killed, often either in a "death roll"-like action or by being flung back and forth in the air, until a limb or chunk of flesh separates and can be swallowed.
While adults have no natural predators, baby saltwater crocodiles may fall prey to monitor lizards, predatory fish, various aquatic and raptorial birds, larger crocodiles and other predators. Juveniles may also fall prey to tigers and leopards in certain parts of their range, although encounters between these predators are rare and cats are likely to usually avoid areas with saltwater crocodiles. In one case, in the Sundarbans region, a tiger was reportedly hit in the face with the tail of a saltwater crocodile of unspecified age and maturity, drawing blood, but then the big cat turned on the reptile pawing it about the face, flipping it over and tearing open its belly.
Saltwater crocodile mate in the wet season, when water levels are highest. In Australia, the male and female engage in courtship in September and October and then the female lays eggs anytime between November and March. The female selects the nesting site and both parents will defend the nesting territory, which is typically a stretch of shore along tidal rivers or freshwater areas. The nest is a mound of mud and vegetation, usually measuring 175 cm (69 in) long and 53 cm (21 in) high. The female typically lays from 40 to 60 eggs but some clutches have included up to 90. The eggs measure on average 8 cm × 5 cm (3.1 in × 2.0 in) and weighing 113 g (4.0 oz) on average. These are relatively small, as the average female saltwater crocodile weighs around five times as much as a freshwater crocodile but lays eggs that are only about 20% larger in measurement and 40% heavier than those in the smaller species. Although the female guards the nest for 80 to 98 days, the loss of eggs is often high to flooding and occasionally to predation. As in all crocodilians, sex of the hatchling is determined by temperature, with relatively low temperatures producing mainly females and high temperatures producing mainly males. In Australia, goannas commonly eat freshwater crocodile eggs (feeding on up to 95% of clutch if discovered) but are relatively unlikely to eat saltwater crocodile eggs due to the diligence of the imposing mother.
As in all crocodilian species, the mother saltwater crocodile exhibits a remarkable level of maternal care for a reptile. The female excavates the nest in response to calls from the hatchlings, and even gently rolling eggs in the mouth to assist hatching. The female will then carry the hatchlings to water, and remain with the young for several months. Despite her diligence, losses of baby crocodiles are heavy to various predators and unrelated crocodiles of their own species. Around 1% of the hatchlings will survive to adulthood. The young naturally start to disperse after around 8 months and start to exhibit territorial behaviour at around 2 and a half years old. However, even females will not reach proper sexual maturity for another ten years. Saltwater crocodiles who survive to adulthood can attain a very long lifespan, with some crocodiles known to be over 65 years of age and some individuals possibly exceeding 100 years. 
One researcher, Dr. Adam Britton, has been studying crocodilian intelligence. He has compiled a collection of Australian saltwater crocodile calls, and associated them with behaviours. His position is that while crocodilian brains are much smaller than those of mammals (as low as 0.05% of body weight in the saltwater crocodile), they are capable of learning difficult tasks with very little conditioning. He also infers that the crocodile calls hint at a deeper language ability than currently accepted. He suggests that saltwater crocodiles are clever animals that can possibly learn faster than lab rats. They have also learned to track the migratory route of their prey as the seasons change.
Attacks on humans
The saltwater crocodiles are the largest crocodilians in existence. Additionally, they are highly opportunistic and territorial predators compared to other crocodilians (such as the American alligator and other smaller species of crocodiles and caimans). They have a strong tendency to treat humans in their territory as prey, and have a long history of attacking and consuming humans who stray into their territory. Given their enormous power, size and speed, survival of a direct predatory attack is unlikely if the crocodile is able to make contact. In distinct contrast to the American policy of encouraging a certain degree of habitat coexistence with alligators, the only recommended policy for dealing with saltwater crocodiles is to avoid their territory whenever possible as they tend to be highly aggressive when encroached upon.
Actual data on attacks is limited outside of Australia. In Australia, attacks are fairly rare and usually appear in national news publications when they do occur. There are approximately one to two fatal attacks reported per year in the country. The low level of attacks may be due to extensive efforts by wildlife officials in Australia to post crocodile warning signs at many at-risk billabongs, rivers, lakes and beaches. In the large Aboriginal community of Arnhem Land, attacks frequently go unreported. There have also been recent, less-publicised attacks in Borneo, Sumatra, eastern India (Andaman Islands), and in Burma.
Many attacks in areas outside of Australia are believed to go unreported, with one study positing that approximately 20 to 30 attacks occur every year. Some attacks appear to be territorial rather than predatory in nature, with crocodiles of over two years in age often attacking anything that comes into their area (including boats). Humans can usually escape alive from such encounters, which comprise about half of all attacks. Non-fatal attacks usually involve crocodiles of 3 m (9.8 ft) or less in length. Fatal attacks, most likely predatory in nature, commonly involve larger crocodiles with an average estimated size of 4.3 m (14 ft). Under normal circumstances, Nile crocodiles are believed to be responsible for a considerably greater number of fatal attacks on humans than saltwater crocodiles. This is most likely because of the plethora of people in Africa who rely on riparian areas for their livelihood, which is less prevalent in most of Asia and certainly less so in Australia.
During the Japanese retreat in the Battle of Ramree Island on 19 February 1945, saltwater crocodiles may have been responsible for the deaths of over 400 Japanese soldiers. British soldiers encircled the swampland through which the Japanese were retreating, condemning the Japanese to a night in the mangroves which was home to thousands of saltwater crocodiles. Another notorious crocodile attack was in 1985, on eco-feminist Val Plumwood, who survived the attack.
As well as being hunted for its meat and eggs, the saltwater crocodile has the most commercially valuable skin of any crocodilian, and unregulated hunting during the 20th century caused a dramatic decline in the species throughout its range, with the population in northern Australia reduced by around 95% by 1971. Illegal hunting still persists in some areas, with protection in some countries ineffective, and trade often difficult to monitor and control over such a vast range. Despite this, the species has since made a dramatic recovery in recent decades. Because of its resurgence, the species is considered of Least Concern for extinction.
Habitat loss continues to be a major problem. In northern Australia, much of the nesting habitat of the saltwater crocodile has been destroyed by the trampling of feral water buffaloes, although buffalo eradication programs have now reduced this problem considerably. However, even where large areas of suitable habitat remain, subtle habitat alterations can be a problem, such as in the Andaman Islands, where freshwater areas, used for nesting, are being increasingly converted for human agriculture. After the commercial value of crocodile skins waned, perhaps the greatest immediate challenge to implementing conservation efforts has been the occasional danger that the species can be to humans and the resulting negative view of the crocodile.
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