The good, the bad, and the ugly: Agonistic behaviour in juvenile crocodilians

Matthew L. Brien, Jeffrey W. Lang, Grahame J. Webb, Colin Stevenson, Keith A. Christian

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    Abstract

    We examined agonistic behaviour in seven species of hatchling and juvenile crocodilians held in small groups (N = 4) under similar laboratory conditions. Agonistic interactions occurred in all seven species, typically involved two individuals, were short in duration (5-15 seconds), and occurred between 1600-2200 h in open water. The nature and extent of agonistic interactions, the behaviours displayed, and the level of conspecific tolerance varied among species. Discrete postures, non-contact and contact movements are described. Three of these were species-specific: push downs by C. johnstoni; inflated tail sweeping by C. novaeguineae ; and, side head striking combined with tail wagging by C. porosus . The two long-snouted species (C. johnstoni and G. gangeticus) avoided contact involving the head and often raised the head up out of the way during agonistic interactions. Several behaviours not associated with aggression are also described, including snout rubbing, raising the head up high while at rest, and the use of vocalizations. The two most aggressive species (C. porosus, C. novaeguineae) appeared to form dominance hierarchies, whereas the less aggressive species did not. Interspecific differences in agonistic behaviour may reflect evolutionary divergence associated with morphology, ecology, general life history and responses to interspecific conflict in areas where multiple species have co-existed. Understanding species-specific traits in agonistic behaviour and social tolerance has implications for the controlled raising of different species of hatchlings for conservation, management or production purposes. 

    Original languageEnglish
    Article numbere80872
    Pages (from-to)1-12
    Number of pages12
    JournalPLoS One
    Volume8
    Issue number12
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - 11 Dec 2013

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