Bright red Erect Rope Sponges (Amphimedon compressa) are part of the seascape when diving at Xcalak.
Also to be found are Caribbean Spiny Lobsters (Panulirus argus) that have a pair of antennae longer than their bodies that are covered with spines.
The Flamingo Tongue Snail (Cyphoma gibbosum) has a shell that has no pattern and is beige in color. However, the shell of this snail is covered by its beautiful mantle that is decorated with stunning colors and markings.
Unfortunately, there were also Common Lionfish (Pterois volitans), an invasive fish that is totally unwelcome, but is now a more-or-less permanent resident in this area. The guides caught the Lionfish to feed them to the crocodiles.
The Southern Sting Ray (Dasyatis Americana) is a non-aggressive animal that poses little threat to humans. But, when stepped on, the ray will use his barbed spine in defense. This one flaps its fins vigorously to disturb the seabed and expose hidden prey to feed on
Huge aggregations of Atlantic Silversides (Menidia menidia) sway rhythmically in the current. Atlantic Silversides form large schools and are found along the shore, often within a few feet of the shoreline. They are favored prey for larger predatory fish.
After traveling 2 hours and 36 nautical miles from Xcalak, we reached Chinchorro Bank. I had my first view of the fisherman’s shacks, the type of building in which I would stay, eat and sleep while interacting with the American Crocodile.
The shack might not have looked comfortable, but it was. It had all of the amenities needed – a hammock in which to sleep, soft summer breezes, fresh water and food the crew had brought with us and a propane stove with which to cook.
And, of course, there was a toilet area with a door that closed. One side was open giving great ventilation. Whatever was deposited into the toilet, dropped down directly into the sea.
The hammocks had been put up by my hosting fishermen. Sleeping in a hammock makes one feel like “rock-a-bye” baby. Being rocked to sleep at night with a gentle breeze – and no insects -- was a very pleasant experience.
Early on the first day, I did a land visit to Chinchorro Bank to enjoy the flora and fauna, like this red Bougainvillea.
This Red Iguana (Iguana iguana) was quite curious. Iguanas are native to tropical areas like Mexico. They have a large round scale on their cheeks known as a subtympanic shield, have great vision, and can see shapes, shadows, colors and movement from long distances.
Water birds like this Ibis with its long, down-curved bill and the dark Cormorant seen here pruning its feathers were common sights.
After my land visit on Chinchorro Bank, I returned to my fisherman’s shack to get ready for my first, in-person, in-water encounter with the American Crocodile (Crocdylus acutus).
Meanwhile, the fishermen who were hosting me in their shack were readying striped snapper along with the lionfish caught on our trip out to Chinchorro Bank to lure the crocodiles away from the mangroves and close to the shack.
And the fishermen were successful. There I was standing on the deck and looking down at my first American Crocodile waiting on the surface for me to jump in and enjoy its company.
Divers know the Crocodilefish (Cymbacephalus beauforti), for its long, flat, crocodile-like snout. But the Crocodilefish is an ambush predator that waits for its prey to swim by, not a hunter like the American Crocodile.
I was told to NEVER, EVER take my eyes off the crocodile, because the crocodile would NEVER, EVER take his eye off me. And that became quite apparent immediately. I was also told to not to check out what I had shot, and to NEVER, EVER turn my back on the crocodile.
When I saw this crocodile, all I could think of was that my dentist would LOVE this guy. The snout of the American Crocodile is long, narrow and V-shaped which is indicative this species preference for fish as prey.
I had been told American Crocodiles are not aggressive, only opportunistic. Oh, really! Fish are their primary prey but they also east small mammals and birds. They have been known to attack humans, but not often. (How often is “not often”?)
An adult American Crocodile is gray-green in color with yellow undersides. It has a scaly hide with rows of ossified scutes. One of the four biggest species of crocodile, it is truly a magnificent animal.
Did you know the American Crocodile can not stick its tongue out at you? It’s tongue can’t move. It’s held at the roof of its mouth with a membrane. The American Crocodile prefers some level of salinity, and its tongue has glands to excrete salt – the same way our kidneys excrete salt for us.
This crocodile came down the ledge towards me. I was happy because I wanted to get some images of it coming towards. He kept coming, and coming, and I kept shooting and backing up, shooting and backing up. It was quite the experience.
I found it hard to believe when I saw this crocodile running because they usually crawl on their bellies. This kind of running is called “high-walking”. A large crocodile can charge at a speed of up to 10 mph. Take note of its arm position.
The American Crocodile can run, and he can also GALLOP! When I saw this one galloping, I thought it looked like Godzilla. American Crocodiles are descended from dinosaurs. Crocodiles breathe air and this one was on its way to the surface for some air.
When the American Crocodile is submerged, its heart rate drops to 2 to 3 beats per minute. They usually stay submerged for about 15 minutes before coming up to breathe. If it is trying to hide from a threat, it might stay submerged for 30 minutes or more.
Adult American Crocodiles have no natural predators and almost any terrestrial or riparian animal they encounter is potential prey. Reportedly, they primarily hunt during the first few hours after sunset, especially on moonless nights. But they will feed at any time.
Speaking for myself, I felt a little bit more anxious when a crocodile was trying to camouflage itself than when it was out in the open. Here, the crocodile is wallowing in algae and saw-grass while camouflaging itself. It was definitely being stealthy.
This American Crocodile kept coming towards me. I tried to back away but it kept coming. The crew above me slapped the water with a fish on a hook. As the crocodile went up for the fish, he stepped on my left shoulder with his right foot pushing himself up. A moment in time….
Then it grabbed and crushed its prey with its massive, powerful jaws, pierces and grips the flesh with its razor-sharp teeth, thrashes back and forth with amazing strength, and swallows the flesh whole because it can’t chew. The croc swallows small stones that grind up the food in its stomach.
The American Crocodile’s main weapon is its bite. Crocodiles have the greatest bite force ever measured. The bite force of a Great White is only slightly stronger than the crocodile’s bite. The crocodile pierces the flesh of its prey with its teeth and does not let go.
People always want to know about the size of the American Crocodile – and, dare I say it – especially men! Males range in size from 13 feet to 16 feet, but can get as big as 20 feet. When this one flew towards me, I was certain he was 20 feet.
The crew came into the water and began feeding lionfish to the crocodiles. Look how this crocodile is almost standing. It uses its front legs almost like arms. That’s because this crocodile’s dinosaur ancestor was the archosaur, and the archosaur stood ERECT.
The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a BEAUTIFUL, MAGNIFICENT, AMAZING animal. I am so happy I had a chance to see it, experience it, and learn about it. AND, as Shakespeare wrote in “As You Like It”, THEREBY HANGS A TAIL….