Can Crocodiles Die Of Old Age?
Did you know, that crocodile have been on our planet for over 200 million years. The crocodile specie is believed to be the earths closest relative to dinosaurs. The extinction of dinosaurs dates back over 66 million years ago, which means the crocodile species was one of the species to survive the Cretaceous–Paleogene extinction event. Being able to survive such an event and still be roaming our planet today, you may be thinking, can crocodiles die of old age?
Unfortunately, ageing is a part of life for all living species. All of which have varying years of life expectancies. We as humans grow up watching are parents and grandparents grow older, just like we do our pets also. Many animals alike humans, start to deteriorate with old age. They begin to slow and start to lose muscle, as well as memory and general ability. But amazingly, some animals don’t suffer the affects of old age like we do.
Immortality is something which we as humans believe only to be myth. But scientists have proven to date that biological immortality has only been witnessed in the jellyfish Turritopsis Dohrnii. This specie of jellyfish is able to revert itself back to an early stage in its life cycle, over and over again. However they are still vulnerable to being killed and eaten, as well as damaging changes to environment, so not entirely ‘immortal’ as we believe it to be.
Can crocodiles die of old age, or do they have some immortal ability also?
Okay, so we know that complete immortality doesn’t exist (yet). However crocodiles DO NOT naturally die of old age like many other forms of life. Crocodiles do not commonly die of old age due to their ‘negligible senescence’. Negligible Senescence is a term used to denote organisms that do not exhibit evidence of biological ageing. This includes factors such as reductions in reproductive capability, functional declines or rising death rates with age. Crocodiles manage to cross off all of these factors.
Reduction in Reproductive Capabilities
Female crocodiles will continue to nest and lay eggs from the age of sexual maturity until they die. There is no reproductive timeline for female crocodiles, unlike many other animals on earth. This means that roughly from the age of 12 years, a female can nest for the rest of her life. Females will lay fewer eggs as she ages, but this never comes to a complete stop due to age.
Crocodiles continue to grow until the day they die. Although growing slows down with age, it never entirely stops. This means that theoretically, the bigger the species, the older they are. Of course some individuals may exceed the next, but that come down to genetics. Their hunting abilities also never decline. They’re able to keep their speed and strength without it declining through old age.
Rising Death Rates
It’s very uncommon for crocodiles to die of old age. They’re more likely to die of other causes such as disease, illness, starvation, being hunted or injuries.
Does this give crocodiles an advantage over their prey?
It’s believed that once a crocodile has matured into adulthood it will continue its life at this same physical and metal level until it dies. Like I have said before, crocodile do begin do slow with age. They lose a bit of muscle tone, they lose some of their teeth, their reproduction rates drop slightly. However for all of this, they are still way above physical levels of their prey, even at its healthiest.
Crocodiles never deteriorate to a state where it cannot fend for itself. Up until the day they die, crocodiles will always have a powerful bite. They will always be fast in the water, and they will always have the power and ability to remain a deadly predator at the top of the food chain. None of this is compromised with age.
This gives the crocodile species an advantage over its prey when hunting, as their performance levels never drop. Other animals which show signs of old age become slow and frail, which makes hunting even easier for a crocodile.
Factors contributing to crocodile deaths
Disease & Illness
Believe it or not, crocodiles are highly sensitive to stress. If their stress levels become too high then they may become exposed to some health related illness and diseases. Illnesses and infections such as Crocodile Pox, Adenoviral Hepatitis, Mycoplasmosis, Chlamydiosis and Coccidiosis are all specific for the crocodile species which can spread through stagnant waters like ponds and reservoirs, and specifically in farmed animals.
All of these illnesses arise from dangerous stress levels, which can evolve from varying environmental factors such as water temperatures, diets, lack of water. The crocodile species has developed a strong and highly complex immune system, which is usually capable of fighting off most bacteria.
Starvation is probably the least contributing factor to crocodile deaths, however not completely exempt. It’s no surprise that one fo the longest lasting species on earth can go a long time without the need for food.
Crocodiles can regularly go a few months without needed a meal. If for some reason their prey isn’t around at a usual time in the year, or if they have been unlucky with hunts, they can go months without needing a meal. In the most extreme cases crocodiles can go up to three years without food, given they have enough fat reserves.
Poached & Hunted
Poaching and hunting crocodiles is one of the main, if not the main factor which contributes to crocodile deaths. Although crocodile hunting is illegal in some parts of the world, there are equally other parts to the world where it is not.
Crocodiles are hunted to prevent the loss of cattle if they become a menace, but also for the crocodile leather market. Due to the decreasing numbers of crocodiles, crocodile leather prices have seen an increase in price which makes it appealing for the illegal poaching of crocodiles. Crocodile leather has to come from certificated crocodile farms, and should not be poached in the wild for their skin.
Loss of Habitat
The crocodile species is constantly at risk from human developments all over the globe. Developments in regions of Africa, Asia, Australia and The Americas threaten the lives of many crocodiles. Their homes and habitats are being destroyed to mass construct new developments. Crocodiles commonly have to search for new places in which it can inhabit, but will commonly be killed in the process due to their threat.
When we think of crocodiles, we think of them being an apex predator at the top of the food chain. Whilst this is true, they do actually have some predators, specially young and juvenile crocodiles.
This may come as a surprise but big cats will commonly prey on crocodiles as a source of food. Jaguars and Leopards are amongst those which will hunt crocodiles of a similar size or less as a hearty meal. Big cats use the high river banks as an advantage to hunt crocodiles. They leap from above in hope to bite onto the back of the crocodiles neck, where then it cannot turn and bite them back. However this doesn’t always go to plan, and sometimes the big cats will become a meal for the crocodiles.
Can you tell a crocodiles age by its appearance?
Measuring a crocodiles age from its appearance is very hard and massively unreliable. Unless you were present the day it hatched and were able to monitor it closely, there’s no easy way to determine a crocodiles age.
That said, there are a few methods and techniques used to gauge a rough estimate of a crocodiles age. The most common methods used by scientists is to measure ‘Lamellar growth rings’. Just like if you cut down a tree, you would see rings inside the structure. This is the same for crocodile teeth and bones.
This is believe to occur due to the growth rate in differing seasons, i.e wet and dry seasons. This occurs once a year, therefore light and dark rings are formed as the crocodile grows throughout these wet and dry seasons. Of course you can only really measure these once the crocodile has passed away, otherwise you would have to physically remove a tooth.
Well there you have it, everything you need to know on ‘Can crocodiles are of old age’.
To recap, crocodiles are believed too rarely die of old age. Their negligible senescence, means they are known to not show any biological signs of ageing. Their physical and mental ability rarely decrease with age, which theoretically means they stay at the same level of ability from maturity, right the way to their death.
The factors which contribute to the most crocodile deaths include, Illnesses and Disease, Starvation, Poached/Hunted, Loss of Habitat and Predatory threats. The only way you can truly tell the age of a crocodile is to cut into its bone or teeth and count the rings, which occur due to the changing growth rate through wet and dry seasons.