Man-eating crocodile encounters – a cryptid overview

Cryptobiology

Abstract

Crocodiles are apex predators in most of their natural habitats and feed on whatever is available, from fish to mammals. With some species, reaching 6 m in length and over 1000 kg, they also represent an actual threat to humans, specifically in areas where direct contact is usual. Crocodiles do perceive humans as a potential source of food and attack when possible, actually causing hundreds of deaths annually. Most of the attacks occur within the natural range of crocodile distribution and are not uncommon in Australia, South-Eastern Asia, and Africa. In all of these cases, the usual suspects were either the saltwater crocodile or the Nile crocodile, the two largest and most aggressive representatives of the family Crocodylidae. At least five more crocodile species are known as actual or potential man-eaters, although at a much smaller scale. Such attacks are, of course, not extraordinary in any sense of this word, and do not fall into the scope of the present study. Some recent reports, however, suggest that different crocodile species may be introduced, successfully adapt and even mutate into ferocious man-eating cryptids outside of their natural range.

Case study 1 – Killer crocodile

Location and species identification

It was in the late 80s of the twentieth century when several ferocious crocodile attacks occurred somewhere in the Caribbean. The exact location remains a piece of classified information, although it is believed to be Hispaniola and more specifically, the Dominican Republic portion of the island. Several characteristics suggest, though not confirmed, that the suspect is an American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus. The species is common on Hispaniola, thrives well in saline waters such as in the area, where it was reported, and is also quite aggressive and responsible for at least several fatal attacks on humans throughout Central America. A male adult may easily reach 5 m in length and even more, which makes him quite capable of attacking and killing any human, falling into his range.

Cryptid status

Survivals’ reports suggest that at least two crocodiles over two years caused numerous fatal attacks. Both of the individuals, eventually eradicated with a boat propelled and dynamite were at least twice the size of a large adult, or at least 10 m in length. According to Eberhart’s classification, both specimens fall into the second category of Undescribed, unusual or outsized variations of known species. The main reason for this oversized growth was identified to be a radioactive waste, discharged illegally in a swamp. It was most probably low-level waste from a nuclear power plant, either of USA or Mexican origin.

What is puzzling is how exactly exposure to radioactivity caused such extraordinary growth of the crocodiles. Normally, crocodiles do grow during their entire life, but still, nowadays representatives do not exceed 5-6 m in length. There are paleontological proofs, however, that certain extinct prehistoric crocodiles such as Purussaurus and Sarcosuchus had reached 11 to 12 meters in length. To get larger, excessive production of somatotropin or the growth hormone and food abundance are both needed. If we assume that the radioactive waste caused mass death of fishes and tumor formation of the adenohypophysis, the endocrine organ that secretes somatotropin, then the overgrowth gland will produce more growth hormone. It is, however, an exception of a rule, as crocodiles do have an extremely effective immune system and do not suffer from cancer.

Case study 2 – Sewer Alligator 

Location and species identification

This was a well-documented case of the notorious alligator that roamed the sewers of Chicago and unleashed terror over the city in the 1980s. The beast was unambiguously identified as an American alligator (Alligator mississipiensis), brought from Florida as a pet animal and released as a baby in the sewer system. Although alligators themselves are large predators, reaching over 4 m in length and occasionally attacking and killing people in the USA, the nearly 10 m individual was even more deadly. What was unexpected is the fact that this animal survived for so long in the sewers, without sunshine, and during the harsh winters, so scientists believe it got by chance near a heating compartment.

Cryptid status

According to Eberhart’s classification, this alligator falls into the first (distribution anomalies) and second (outsized variation of known species) categories. The extraordinary size, which caused fear and panic among Chicago citizens, was due to the special diet that this specimen found by complete chance. Some low-moral scientists get rid of the corpses of lab animals, used in experiments to promote faster growth for livestock meat production. These corpses, discarded in the sewers, were supposedly very high in somatotropin, or a similar molecule and when the alligator fed on them, it took him about 12 years to reach its enormous size. Considering, that a less than 5 m alligator, known as the Stokes’ alligator was estimated to be around 30 years old, such considerable growth in otherwise uncommon and suboptimal conditions sounds hard to be trusted.

Figure 1. Size-comparative table of largest known extinct, extant or cryptid crocodiles. Scale bar = 1 m.

It is not impossible that the growth hormone, found in the carcasses could be active in the alligator, but it is most probably destroyed in its digestive system. Normally, growth hormone is administered to target animals by injections. Therefore, our best guess is that these experiments involved some kind of molecular carrier that makes the hormone pass into the bloodstream intact, where it is released.  Thus, an otherwise successful trial to invent growth hormone oral supplements turned wrong when the baby alligator fed not only on carcasses, but also ingested large quantities of the discarded pills.

Case study 3 – Lake Placid

Location and species identification

Black Lake in Aroostook County, Maine, was once a favorite recreational area until a population of saltwater crocodiles (Crocodylus porosus), occasionally established there and proved to be successful inhabitants. First fed by an old lady and other careless citizens, they evolved over the years into a healthy population. It is largely unknown how the first specimens were released there and also, how they survived the cold winters, but they adapted incredibly well.

Cryptid status

Although the first specimen was reported (but not confirmed) to be nearly 9 m in length most of the specimens were not extremely oversized and fall into the first category of distributional anomalies of known species. What is striking is the fact, that over time the new generations adapted to the specific location and more importantly, to the lack of suitable prey after a fence was built around the lake and stopped the income of elks and other potential food. Thus, a much smaller size – usually 50 to 100 cm length of adult specimens, combined with cooperative hunting proved to be a much successful strategy that soon outcompeted the larger crocodiles. Several authors consider the population in Black Lake as a new subspecies, Crocodylus porosus subsp. americanensis and even a new species. If so, this would be an extraordinary case of evolution in the time course of years and not millions of years. This was of course, largely disapproved by the academic societies as genetic studies did not find significant differences between the Black Lake crocodiles and their wild relatives in Australia and South-Eastern Asia, but still, they remain a unique adaptation for a species that remained unchanged for tens of millions of years.

References

[1] Harry Ludman. 1989. Killer Crocodile. Fulvia Film.

[2] Giannetto De Rossi. 1990. Killer Crocodile 2. Fulvia Film.

[3] Lewis Teague. 1980. Alligator. Alligator Inc.

[4] Jon Hess. 1991. Alligator II: The Mutation. Golden Hawk Entertainment.

[5] Steve Miner. 1999. Lake Placid. Fox 2000 Pictures.

[6] David Flores. 2007. Lake Placid 2. Sci-Fi Channel.

[7] David Reed. 2010. Lake Placid 3. SyFy.

[8] David Reed. 2012. Lake Placid: The Final Chapter. SyFy

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