Do Crocodiles play around?

Hi Karoline,

This is an interesting question. The short answer is that while some crocodiles have been observed 'playing', there is no detailed scientific evidence to suggest that they do.

For a longer answer, we would need to first ask the question, why do any animals play?

We know that mammals (warm blood animals that have hair and feed their young with milk) play. Lions, for example, are known for their play behaviour (not unlike pet cats at home). This play behaviour has a more serious purpose though, as it helps a young animal develop an understanding of others, form relationships and how to follow the rules of communication.

In this article, the author points out the four basic aspects of fair play in animals, where are:

1. Ask first,
2. be honest,
3. follow the rules, and
4. admit when you're wrong.

When the rules of play are broken, and when you no longer play fair, then the playing comes to an end.

If you think about it, the same is true in the school playground. These are important lessons to learn when living in a community, and playing tends to be seen in more intelligent animals (such as mammals) that have complex relationships (social organisation) with each other.

However, your question was about crocodiles, which are of course reptiles. Now I have owned lizards at various times, and while I could certainly see that each of them had their own personality, and often some strange habits, it was hard to describe them as 'playing'. Play is different from just communicating with each other, and crocodiles certainly do have a range of growls and movements that communicate their feelings to each other (usually 'Keep away, this is my food!').

I found a website that describes three examples of crocodiles (and one alligator) playing.

In one example a crocodile was seen surfing.
In the next example a young alligator was seen playing with drips from a pipe.
In the final example, a crocodile was seen playing with a dead animal. The crocodile rolled onto its back, grabbed the animal in its mouth and spun the animal around five or six times, then the crocodile rolled back onto its feet again and walked away.

It should be noted that these are observations, rather than scientific studies. Observation (watching something and recording everything that you see) is an important part of science, but if we want to understand the behaviours that we see, we need to do more detailed studies.

For example, we all like to play in the sand at the beach (even grow-ups). If you saw a bird wriggling around in the sand, you might also think it was playing. However, it is more likely the bird is using the sand to remove lots of tiny mites (like nits) from its feathers. So it isn't 'playing', it is having a bath. This is why we need to be careful not to interpret animal behaviours by using our own human behaviour as an example, especially when they are very different animals, like crocodiles.

In each of the three above examples, there could be specific reasons for what they were doing, but we cannot conclude that they were in fact 'playing'.