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Week 1 Power Poll: Crocodilians

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You gon’ learn today.

I claimed the Week 1 Power Poll because as a Rutgers fan I’m riding high after game 1 and don’t know how much longer that feeling will last.

For those who don’t know me or my Power Polls, each year I drop one big educational power poll that is tangential/relevant to my research field (@ the people I get into fights with on Twitter who think I do THIS for a living lol). Last year’s ZuzuRU-edition Power Poll was semi-aquatic tetrapods, 2018’s was geologic time periods, 2017’s was marine tetrapods, then non-dinosaurs in 2016, and I ultimately kicked this whole thing off with this Dinosaur one in 2015. (Also, good god, I’ve been doing this for a long time).

For this year’s Zuzu-edu-Power Poll, I bring to you all a Power Poll on one of my favorite groups of living animals, Crocodilians! Did you know that there are 23 species of living crocodilians? Crocodilians (Crocodylia) as a broad group includes three evolutionarily related smaller groups: crocodiles (Crocodylidae), alligators and caimans (Alligatoridae), and gharials (Gavialidae). Broadly speaking, crocodilians are a group of semi-aquatic archosaurs. Archosaurs are a specific group of reptiles which includes living crocodilians and their many extinct relatives, dinosaurs (birds included), pterosaurs like pterodactyls, and other now extinct groups. And yes this means that, despite the seemingly extreme morphological disparity, crocodiles and birds are each other’s closest living relatives (a fun fact to impress with on all occasions).

Now the whole of “croc” diversity, or croc-line archosaurs (archosaurs more closely related to crocodilians than to birds [as opposed to dinosaur/bird-line archosaurs]) is so much greater than what we have today. A top 3 evolution thing I lament most is how niche and relatively “boring” the crocs we have are today. All semi-aquatic and sprawling-legged? Lame. Bring back cheetah galloping, armored, flippered, and two-legged “dino”-crocs. Anyway, that’s not what this power poll is about, it’s about celebrating modern croc diversity by comparing 14 out of the 23 amazing species to our fourteen lovely Big Ten teams (but for real there used to be cheetah galloping, armored, flippered, and two-legged “dino”-crocs). All crocs are amazing.

The total team Power Rank graph is below and it really is amazing to see the rises and falls of teams between our Preseason Power Poll rankings and Week 1. #TEAM2020CHAOS. Anyway, modern crocodilians are amazing and without further ado, the Off Tackle Empire Crocodilian Power Poll.

1. Ohio State— Saltwater Crocodile

(High: 1, Low: 2)

Ohio State has to be the Saltwater Crocodile. There is no other choice. The Saltwater Crocodile is the largest crocodilian and reptile on the planet. It’s a well-known, geographically abundant, and incredibly deadly crocodilian. It dominates both freshwater and saltwater environments, which can be seen as analogous to domination of the B1G East and West, or conference and non-conference.

2. Michigan— Nile Crocodile

(High: 2, Low: 4)

Nile crocodiles are the crocodile which kills the most people annually. They’re pretty mean temperamentally, very large and powerful, and have been revered by many cultures. Yet, Nile crocs always seem to be seen as 2nd or even 3rd fiddle to other African megafauna like hippos, elephants, even big cats despite definitely being a deadly animal. Is this fair? I’d say mostly no. Does it still happen? Yes.

3. Wisconsin— Gharial

(High: 1, Low: 13)

These are amazing crocodilians. Males can reach nearly 20 feet long (longer than Nile crocodiles), and are characterized by their long slender snouts lined with sharp fish trapping teeth, and mature males have this peculiar hollow mass at the end of their snouts. Gharials are really cool, and I genuinely think they are a Top 3 crocodilian, but sadly they are critically endangered and their range is currently restricted to Northern India. Similar to how Wisconsin is in critical danger of dying out after a strong start to the season with COVID-19 affecting their QB, Graham Mertz, as well as their backup QB, Chase Wolf.

4. Indiana— Black Caiman

(High: 3, Low: 6)

Don’t let the word “caiman” deceive you like it deceives many. The Black Caiman is the fourth largest crocodilian in the world and 5th largest reptile on the planet. They are even larger than their alligatoridae cousin, the American Alligator. The Black Caiman fools laypersons the same way Indiana fooled everyone by making people think/assume that they were “just Indiana” (just a caiman), but then beat Penn State in week 1 and found themselves ranked #19 in the AP poll.

5. Purdue— False Gharial

(High: 5, Low: 8)

A misleading name because the False Gharial IS actually the second of two Gharial species alive today. The false gharial being something that its name suggests it isn’t is pretty similar to Purdue where people consistently think Purdue isn’t good/decent, but it actually is and has been for a few years now. It is called the “false gharial” because before genetic data, its skull morphology made scientists think it was more closely related to crocodiles than to gharials. There are more Purdue analogies here that I’m too lazy to make. (Also, unrelated to its relevance to Purdue, the False Gharial has, to me, the coolest coloring of any crocodilian.)

6. Penn State— Orinoco Crocodile

(High: 4, Low: 12)

This is the crocodile of the Amazon. If you see a crocodile in a movie and that movie takes place in the Amazon rainforest, this is technically the crocodile that is depicted. It’s the third largest crocodile in the world behind the saltwater and Nile and is know for its lighter coloring (something something White Out). It’s critically endangered, was given protected status decades ago, and conservationists keep trying to help it and expect it to bounce back with breeding and release programs, but it’s not recovering and they don’t know why, and this croc really strikes me as Penn State for some reason.

7. Northwestern— American Crocodile

(High: 2, Low: 9)

American Crocodiles are the other crocodilian native to North America, mostly inhabiting the Caribbean, Central America, and extending some to northern South America. Unlike the American Alligator, American Crocodiles prefer coastal saltwater and brackish environments and barely overlap with American Alligators except in the southernmost portion of Florida. American crocodiles, which can reach nearly 20 feet long, can mess you up... There are no “but’s” to be had about that. However, there is something about that American Crocodile that is... secretly threatening, I don’t know. Very Northwestern vibes.

8. Rutgers— Cuban Crocodile

(High: 3, Low: 11)

Cuban crocodiles are the “landiest” crocodiles. They can run very well and even jump. Like with their legs... off of land. They’re very underrated crocodiles. And since they’re land-y and tend to crocodile(verb) differently and in an unexpected way compared to other crocs, a Rutgers week 1 comparison is apt, I think. Who could have seen this coming for Rutgers? Who could see a crocodile galloping at you and jumping off the ground? Rutgers jumped in national respect the same way Cuban Crocodiles jump to grab prey out of trees. Also, look at how freaking cute this video is. You are obligated to watch it. It’s 6 seconds. (Also, go to this Youtube link to see a Cuban croc jumping at the National Zoo).

9. Iowa— American Alligator

(High: 7, Low: 11)

Alligators are large, dangerous, but basic. Some might argue that the alligator, one of the most famous crocodilians in the world, should be higher on the list. And, like Iowa, I thought it would be too, but the more I thought about it, compared to the other 22 living crocodilians, the more I realized just how... uninspired the alligator is. So an unrelated educational opportunity here is to educate readers on the difference between crocs and alligators. Alligators compared to crocodiles have a wider, broader snout, once thought to be for withstanding crushing things like turtle shells, but studies indicate it seems to not be correlated with bite force. Alligators & caimans (same family: Alligatoridae) are also more restricted to freshwater environments compared to crocodiles which happily dabble in and even sometimes prefer saltwater (though American Alligators can stand brackish water some).

10. Minnesota— Mugger Crocodile

(High: 6, Low: 10)

The Mugger crocodile is a medium-sized crocodile common across the Indian subcontinent even extending as far as southern Iran. It’s a respectable crocodile in its own right and has done super cool things like exhibit documented tool use in using branches and sticks on its head as a lure for catching birds that are looking for nesting materials— some of the first documented tool-use in reptiles. Overall, however, the Mugger Crocodile really doesn’t compete much with the crocodilians higher on this list. At least I don’t think so. I feel like that’s Minnesota Football in 2020. It’s fine. Not awesome.

11. Nebraska— Morelet’s Crocodile

(High: 8, Low: 13)

For years this crocodile was thought to be a regional subspecies of the American Crocodile or even the Cuban crocodile, but turns out it is its own species. Native exclusively to the Atlantic side of Mexico, its numbers put it in the conservation category of “Least Concern.” I feel it aligns with Nebraska in that it wasn’t recognized as its own species until the 1920’s and that this somehow ties to Nebraska being Big XII, now Big Ten, and really is not a big concern for legitimate Big Ten teams... I don’t know, I always have a weak one in these Power Polls.

12. Illinois— Freshwater crocodile

(High: 11, Low: 14, Last Place Votes: 3)

The Freshwater crocodile, native to Northern Australia, is a small slender-snouted crocodile. It’s name does allude to its primary habitat, however, it does spend some time in saltwater. However, it pales in comparison to its saltwater cousin and the other large crocodiles on this list and is really not a fatal threat to humans, though they can certainly deliver an unpleasant bite. But you can apparently swim with these crocodiles if they are unprovoked. Crocs you can swim with... yes a perfect croc for Illinois.

13. Michigan State— Chinese Alligator

(High: 9, Low: 14, Last Place Votes: 5)

Xiang ryc - Imaginechina

The smaller and lesser known other alligator species (there are only 2). Individuals typically reach about half the size of the American Alligator. So a little alligator brother, if you will. The Chinese Alligator, native to the Yangtze River, is incredibly endangered. The same way Michigan State is in danger of being the worst B1G East program of 2020. But how can you not have a slight soft spot for the Chinese Alligator? Look at it.

14. Maryland— Cuvier’s Dwarf Caiman

(High: 11, Low: 14, Last Place Votes: 8)

The smallest living crocodilian. Low risk. In the pet trade. Yep. Maryland 2020.


So that’s the Week 1 Crocodilian themed power poll. Do you like the crocs selected for your team or other teams? Also, things my super crocodile-fan scientist self wants you to take away from this: Crocodiles are cool and even living ones are diverse, but past croc relatives even more so. Also, they are pretty colorful, they have different personalities, and they are smart.

Poll

Favorite group of Crocs?

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    Crocodiles
    (76 votes)
  • 14%
    Alligators and caimans
    (44 votes)
  • 20%
    Gharials
    (63 votes)
  • 22%
    The extinct ones
    (68 votes)
  • 17%
    The shoes
    (53 votes)
304 votes total Vote Now