Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Why the Long Face?

Photo: Guy Nolch

Head shape is a good indicator of the predator’s tendency to feed on either small or large prey. Photo: Guy Nolch

By Christopher Walmsley & Colin McHenry

The jaw strength of crocodiles can be predicted by simple linear measurements that could provide new insights into the diets of extinct marine reptiles.

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Crocodiles and their relatives have been on the planet for around 200 million years, and today are the largest of all living reptiles. They are found in many countries all over the globe, preferring to inhabit warm waters in regions like Africa, South-East Asia and Australia. This iconic predator has stood the evolutionary test of time, managing to live and even thrive in environments where many others failed.

Crocodiles have adapted to their environment in many ways, including pressure sensors in the skin that help to detect prey in the water and an internal navigation system that allows them to find their way home even after being relocated thousands of kilometres away. The way these predators have managed to adapt so successfully to their environments is fascinating, and it’s easy to see why many scientists choose to study them.

Among the 23 living species of crocodile there is an amazing range of diversity in their head shape. This spectrum ranges from animals with very long, narrow, pincer-like jaws, such as the gharial in India and the false gharia in Sumatra and Borneo, through to the short, broad jaws of the spectacled caiman in Central and South America and the dwarf crocodile in West Africa.

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