It's often said that plovers feed on rotting meat & parasites found in the mouths of crocodiles. According to Wikipedia, this is likely a myth. Are they right? I was told it was true in the birds section, but it can't hurt to get a second opinion.

Hi Adam,

This story originates from the Greek philosopher (and natural historian) Herodotus, who described a relationship between the Egyptian plover and the Nile crocodile where the bird would clean parasites and remove rotting meat stuck between the crocodile's teeth. The trouble is, nobody in all the years since has been able to produce any photographic or video evidence of this actually taking place. I suspect that Herodotus, like much of his writing regarding crocodiles and alligators, was being rather fanciful. Birds are often found around the jaws of crocodiles, not necessarily cleaning on teeth but simply hanging around often scavenging in the general vicinity. Crocodiles simply ignore them when they're basking. It's possible that birds might grab insects near the head, and it's not unreasonable to assume that they would grab leeches if they discovered them. The teeth are rather too widely spaced to harbor any food particles.

So I would describe the birds' behaviour as being opportunistic rather than symbiotic. The crocs aren't really gaining anything at all, and feeding opportunities for birds are slim around croc jaws as well. Herodotus did have an active imagination though, and is the origin of a number of wildly improbable crocodile myths.

Bear in mind that there are many species of 'plover' in the PaleArctic (northern hemisphere) and that this is the description (caveat on Adam's notes above) of one single species. In the north western palearctic (where I am), the major 'plover' species (i.e the ones seen most regularly and over the widest distribution) (grey, golden, ringed, little ringed) are all invertebrate feeders...