Crocodiles Perk Up When They Hear a Human Baby Cry

It could mean lunch is near, but the responses also were sometimes protective
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 14, 2023 10:50 AM CDT
Crocodiles Perk Up When They Hear a Human Baby Cry
   (Getty / Tanto Yensen)

Scientists have discovered that crocodiles become very interested when they hear a human baby wailing. The grim reality is that in most cases, the crocs quickly investigate the source of the cries because they think a meal is at hand, reports the New York Times. That is, the cries are "like a dinner bell," as Smithsonian puts it. However, in some cases, it appears the crocodiles responded in a protective nature, perhaps related to a universal parental instinct. The insights came from an experiment in which researchers placed loudspeakers at a crocodile park in Morocco and played recordings of human, chimp, and bonobo babies crying in different circumstances. (For humans, it was bath time versus getting a shot.)

Sometimes, the crocs approached the speakers underwater, as if in predatory fashion, and some even bit the devices. But "we saw one crocodile that came and tried to defend the loudspeaker from other crocodiles," says Nicolas Grimault of the French National Centre for Scientific Research. Live Science notes another discovery: The crocs appeared to be better than humans at knowing when a baby is in genuine distress. The cries of bonobo infants, for example, are at a relatively high pitch, leading humans to frequently overestimate the distress they're in. Not so for crocs, who were most responsive only to the cries of real angst. They focused on "other aspects of the cries more characteristic of distress in the primates—such as chaos," per Smithsonian.

"It's fascinating that crocodiles are able to gather information from the cries of primate babies—and in fact they're better at it than humans are, which was really unexpected," Grimault tells New Scientist. The team published its results in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences journal, where the insight was phrased like so: "Interestingly, the acoustic features driving crocodile reaction are likely to be more reliable markers of distress than those used by humans." The Times notes one practical drawback of the study: Researchers were generally unable to tell whether responding crocs were male or female, which might have shed more light on the behavior. (Read more crocodile stories.)

We use cookies. By Clicking "OK" or any content on this site, you agree to allow cookies to be placed. Read more in our privacy policy.
Get the news faster.
Tap to install our app.
Install the Newser News app
in two easy steps:
1. Tap in your navigation bar.
2. Tap to Add to Home Screen.