Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Inside Natures Giants: Nile Crocodile

WARNING:

The following review contains very explicit images of animal viscera and gore. If you are not comfortable with this STOP NOW. If you are scroll down for the article.

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We are back to the format of the first episode now with a lab based dissection taking place at the Royal Veterinary College in London. Our subject is a young Nile Crocodile from a park in France that had died without any real warning, in this case the dissection was very much a post mortem also. At the age of 17 years this animal was very young as apparently Crocodile lifespan is very similar to our own. Barely a teenager in fact. I’m sure you will be very much of the mindset that i was initially regarding these animals. Big mouth big stomache, eats things. Just how complicated can it be? The answer is VERY.

The dissection starts with a investigation into jaw muscles with an absolutely stunning illustraction of how the crocodile manages to have such powerful jaws. The two footbal sized pink thinks on the image below? Jaw muscles.

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This leads to a question that I had not even considered. How exactly do you digest what are essentially un-chewed chunks of raw meat? Our solution to protein breakdown is simple, we chew and chew breaking down proteins mechanically so that our enzymes and acids can get to work. Crocodiles cant do that. Instead they have very complex stomachs with a very high degree of acid, some of which is believed to me the crocodiles own blood. I will repeat that, the crocodile is SO HARDASS that it digests with its own blood. This appears to come from a modified structure in the heart providing a venting route for deoxygenated blood that is high in co2 and thus acidic to be vented into the digestion chamber.

The programme as a whole was more physically interesting them the pure size and spectacle of the whale and the slightly more predictable structures of the elephant. The crocodile however seems almost alien in its structure, not adhering to the basic rules of anatomy that we take for granted. Two such examples are the dorsally (so towards the spine) located position of the females ovaries and the displaced windpipe. vlcsnap-2009-07-14-10h56m20s146 

The show did illustrate perfectly the sheer muscle mass of the crocodile with the vital organs packed into a relatively small space, this making the animal extremely tough indeed.

Once the dissection is complete it becomes very likely that the animal died from a lung infection. vlcsnap-2009-07-14-11h18m31s152

This was another excellent episode and well worth a watch. You should be able to see it on 4oD.

Paul out…my moneys on the croc.

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