Food capture, appetite, digestion rate and efficiency in hatchling and juvenile Crocodylus porosus



Juvenile estuarine crocodiles captured insects and crabs at or above the water surface by leaps and lunges powered by the hind limbs and tail. The mouth opened as the head cleared the water; most prey were held by sidesnaps of the jaws. Such prey capture was accurate, deliberate and preceded by stalking. In contrast, submerged prey (e.g. prawns) appeared to be detected mainly by touch and detection was followed by undirected, inaccurate ‘snapping frenzies’ which were usually ineffective. Small prey items were swallowed whole under water. Large dense prey (e.g. crabs) were handled and swallowed on land or in very shallow water; large less dense prey (e.g. cockroaches) were swallowed during vigorous water-treading in deep water, the head being maintained above the water surface.

Young crocodiles ate satiation meals of 9–10% body weight (on a fresh food weight basis) at 30°C, and appetite returned over about 40 h as the stomach emptied. Total gut clearance time for a meal was 4–5 d. Evidence was obtained which demonstrated that young Crocodylus porosus Schneider deliberately eat gastroliths from an early stage. Such gastroliths are retained within the stomach (as were barium/polystyrene spheroids of 1 mm diameter) presumably by the action of the well-developed pyloric sphincter. X-radiographs demonstrated that gastroliths are dispersed throughout the stomach contents after a meal and presumably aid digestion.

Assimilation rates for dry mass (77.5%), energy (85.2%) and protein-N (97.4%) were high in normal juveniles. Animals exhibiting ‘runt syndrome’ showed strong appetite but slow food processing by the gut, together with poor assimilation, especially of protein (35.7%).