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Crocodiles by PJ and Courtney

Crocodiles are all over Florida, but they don't freak us out. We volunteer at Gatorland in Orlando and see them all the time. But crocodiles are dangerous, so you have to be careful around them. That's why if the handlers need to move one, they try to get it into a crate first. So the handlers are training them to go into crates on their own, rather than trying to force them. We wanted to know: Can you really train a crocodile?

What did we do?
To try crating a croc, we decided to do an experiment like the trainers were doing. We yelled the word "crate" at the crocodile and then rewarded the croc with a piece of meat if it went inside the crate. We did 3 trials for each croc. First, we tried it on two baby salties (those are crocodiles that live in salty water). Then we tried it on two young Cuban crocs. The last test was on four adult Cuban crocodiles.

What did we find out?
The baby salties didn't respond to the commands at all. They never went into the crate and didn't care about the reward. But maybe they will with more training. The young Cuban crocs, who'd had some training, got it! They went into their crates two out of three times. The adults made it into their crates all three times. The trainers have been working with the adult crocs for quite a while, so they were used to responding to the crate command and knew they'd get a reward. The baby salties didn't recognize the commands at all, but maybe they will with more training. We concluded that the age of the croc and how much training experience it had were the most important factors in getting it to "crate" successfully. Young crocs are easier to handle than older ones, but it is harder to get them to respond to commands. The old crocs followed the commands because they had lots of practice.

What can you do?
  • How can you train your pet to respond to your voice? What kind of rewards do you give them to learn a certain behavior? How long does training take?
  • Do dogs listen to what you're saying to them or how you're saying it? Say another word to your pet in place of your regular command. Instead of demanding "here," try saying "computer" in the same tone. What does he do when you command "computer?" Does your pet respond, or will he only respond when you say his regular command?
  • Some trainers think that crocodiles can only hear certain sounds in the word "crate." Their ears may only allow them to hear vowel sounds. When you hear "crate," they may only hear "a." How could you test this on your pet? How is their hearing different than humans?
  • Use this animal investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
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