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Crocodiles’ Surprising Affinity for Marigold Flowers: A Fascinating Study


Crocodiles, often perceived as cold-blooded reptiles with primitive instincts, have recently unveiled a remarkable and unexpected facet of their behavior – a fondness for marigold flowers. This intriguing discovery, made by zoologists Utkarsh M. Chavan and Manoj R. Borkar during their study of Indian marsh crocodiles (Crocodylus palustris) along the Savitri River in Maharashtra, challenges conventional wisdom about reptilian cognition and raises intriguing questions about their interactions with the natural world.

Muggers or Indian marsh crocodiles at the Savitri River in Maharashtra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The Unlikely Marigold Connection

The study, spanning from 2014 to May 2023, focused on muggers or Indian marsh crocodiles residing in various stretches of the Savitri River, including Kemburli, Mohalla, Dadli, and Smashaan (cremation ground) areas in Raigad district’s Mahad town. What emerged from their meticulous observations was an astonishing revelation – the crocodiles displayed a distinct attraction to marigold flowers, particularly those in shades of yellow and orange, commonly used in garlands for religious offerings and rituals.

Peculiar Behavior

A mugger or Indian marsh crocodile seen nudging toward discarded marigold flowers on the bank of the Savitri River in Maharashtra | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The observed behavior of muggers towards marigolds was indeed peculiar. Unlike some other crocodile species known to play with floating debris in the water, the muggers did not manipulate the marigold flowers. Instead, they exhibited a more passive yet consistent pattern of behavior: they would often be found basking, floating, or simply lying in close proximity to the garlands discarded during cremation rituals on the riverbank.

An Unexplored Aspect of Reptilian Behavior

This unique behavior challenges preconceived notions about crocodilian cognition. While crocodiles are not typically associated with refined or complex behavior due to the perceived simplicity of their brain structure, this study reveals a more nuanced aspect of their interaction with their environment.

Color Vision and Its Implications

The study notes that crocodiles, including muggers, possess sophisticated color vision. This discovery is particularly significant, as it suggests that the crocodiles’ attraction to marigold flowers may be linked to their ability to perceive and respond to specific colors. This raises intriguing questions about the evolution and functionality of color vision in reptiles.

Marigold Petals as Potential Bacterial Shields

Beyond the fascination with marigolds, the study delves into another interesting aspect of this behavior. Marigold petals are known to contain antimicrobial compounds with potent bacteriostatic properties. Considering that stretches of the Savitri River have been contaminated with sewage, the muggers’ contact with marigold flowers could have unintended but beneficial consequences. Their interaction with these flowers may help reduce their topical bacterial load, offering a potential form of natural protection against dermal pathogens.

Community Fishing and Sentient Behavior

While the study primarily focused on the crocodiles’ unexpected attraction to marigold flowers, it also unveiled other intriguing aspects of mugger behavior. These crocodiles were observed engaging in community fishing, a cooperative hunting strategy where they create whirlpools in the water to concentrate fish. They also employ baits or lures on their snouts to capture birds, demonstrating a level of strategy and coordination in their hunting methods.

The Surprising Element of Sentience

Perhaps the most astonishing revelation from the study was the demonstration of sentient behavior among muggers. On two distinct occasions, muggers were observed interacting with stray dogs in a manner that extended beyond predatory instincts. In one instance, two muggers guided a stranded dog away from potential danger posed by a pack of feral dogs. This act of protection suggests a form of cross-species emotional empathy that challenges traditional perceptions of reptilian behavior.

Implications and Future Research

This study not only broadens our understanding of crocodile behavior but also underscores the richness and complexity of the natural world. It prompts further questions about the cognitive capacities of reptiles and their capacity for nuanced interactions with their environment.

As we delve deeper into the world of animal behavior and cognition, it is essential to recognize that even creatures with relatively simple brain structures, like crocodiles, can exhibit surprising and unexpected behaviors. This study serves as a testament to the wonders of the natural world and the countless mysteries it continues to unveil.

In conclusion, the affinity of muggers for marigold flowers, as revealed in this study, highlights the need for continued exploration and research into the behavior and cognition of seemingly unassuming creatures. It reminds us that nature’s intricacies are far more diverse and intriguing than we may have previously imagined.

Source: The Hindu – “Crocodiles yield to flower power, study finds”

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