Saltwater crocodiles eat fish and mammals. Since they live in estuaries and low salinity water, they do not have access to as much food as alligators and freshwater crocodiles.
Like many species of crocodiles, saltwater crocs are not choosy when it comes to food. They eat what is available—from saltwater fish to snakes and lizards, a saltwater crocodile will eat anything. However, they seem to have a preference for small invertebrate prey.
What do Saltwater Crocodiles Eat?
Below are some of the most common things that saltwater crocodiles eat:
- Mud crabs
- Water birds and ground-living birds like the emu
- Swift-flying birds
- Greater mouse deer
- Hog deer
- Crab-eating macaques
- Proboscis monkeys
- Golden jackals
- Flying foxes
Studies show that saltwater crocodiles can eat toads with toxins, particularly the cane toad. Somehow, they have partial resistance to the toad’s poison. Freshwater crocodiles, on the other hand, will die from eating a cane toad. Snakes that eat cane toads also die, except the keelback snake.
The saltwater crocodile can also take on large animals. Examples of these are the sambar deer, the wild boar, Malayan tapirs, water buffalo, and gaur.
How Does a Saltwater Crocodile Hunt?
Salties use the same hunting methods as their cousins. They submerge themselves in water, with their eyes and snout visible. They swim close to the target and then pounce upwards or forwards, depending on the situation.
However, unlike some crocs and the alligator, saltwater crocodiles were never documented to have hunted on land. Young salties are strong—they can breach the water and propel themselves upward, making it possible to capture prey perched on a branch.
Some saltwater crocodiles hit branches with their tail. There are people who have seen them do this when they hunt rhesus monkeys. Once the croc’s tail hits the branch, the monkey is thrown off balance and falls in the water. The thing is, no one knows if this hunting technique is accidental or intentional.
Once a saltie has a grip on the prey, the croc will drown it. If the victim is small, the crocodile swallows it whole. Big prey has to be drowned first and then crushed. Like other croc species, the saltwater crocodile will also do the death roll if there is a need for it.
Saltwater crocodiles also jerk their heads in a sudden motion—this movement cracks the bones. Then, the crocodile will start eating chunks of flesh. Other crocodiles will jump in if the prey is huge.
Do Saltwater Crocodiles Hunt Humans?
Yes, the saltwater crocodile, along with the Nile crocodile, has a high tendency to attack humans for food. Many crocodile species, including the alligators, do not do this.
Other crocodylians attack humans because of territorial encroachment or if the human is close to a nest. Saltwater crocodiles, however, actively seek and prey on humans.
There are many documented stories of saltwater crocodiles eating a human being. The sad thing is that the survival of this attack is close to impossible. A saltwater croc is huge. It can grow up to 23 feet, and it also has both power and speed. No human can get out of this situation.
With alligators, government officials encourage a habitat of coexistence with humans. There are many areas in the United States where both gators and humans live. The same cannot be recommended for the saltwater crocodile.
In areas where there are saltwater crocs, the law is to leave them alone. The recommended policy is to avoid them and live somewhere else. They are extremely aggressive when someone encroaches on their territory—humans included.
Do Saltwater Crocodiles Hunt in the Sea?
Yes, they do. Saltwater crocodiles do not live in the sea. They live in brackish waters like estuaries. However, they are also seafaring animals that prey on marine animals.
There is evidence that they hunt while in the open sea—if they are traveling. Scientists have found remains of pelagic fishes in the stomach of saltwater crocodiles.
A pelagic fish is one that is categorized as coastal or oceanic fish. They inhabit waters with depths of 655 feet. Examples of this type of fish are sardines, menhaden, anchovies. Large fishes like swordfish, tuna, and mackerel are also considered pelagic.
Since these fishes live miles away from crocodiles, the only explanation for having them in the croc’s tummy is that the crocodile hunted the fish in its territory—away from the shores.
So, how do saltwater crocodiles do it? First, they go to the sea. There are videos showing crocodiles going to the sea. When in the sea, they hunt marine animals.
Below are some examples:
- Sea snakes
- Sea turtles
- Small sharks
There are many people who have witnessed crocodiles hunting in the sea, but these are within sight of land. What it means is that the croc is not in the middle of the sea where no land is visible.
In the sea, crocodiles are normally on the hunt for slow sea turtles. Close to the shore, they will eat bull sharks, as it is the only kind of shark that tends to go in shallow waters, including estuaries where saltwater crocodiles live.
There are videos where crocodiles and sharks are shown together in the same water. In this case, the shark took a stab at the shark, but the shark changed its mind and went away.
Crocodiles also scavenge for carrion. In the sea, there are occasions when a whale dies. In this case, both the croc and the shark would eat the dead whale.
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Saltwater crocodiles are not picky eaters. They will eat anything that they can get their hands, or jaws, on. From monkeys to fish, they will hunt if the opportunity arises. One thing that makes the saltwater crocodile is its ferocity, even against humans. Like the Nile crocodile, it does look at humans as food, not just as a threat. Alligators, on the other hand, are afraid of human beings and will only attack if threatened.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education.