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The alligators of my world are crocodilians with a variety of unique traits. One of these traits is that, instead of simply eating the prey it captures, they use 'ropes' of some description to bind them up, after which they store said prey in their nest. However, I can't work out how an alligator could tie anything up

With regards to anatomy, how could an alligator realistically be altered to be able tie up its prey?

Please include how it makes/gets the 'cords' and minimize the changes that the alligators would need

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    $\begingroup$ Quick question: by tying up their prey, do you mean that they prefer to keep prey alive and fresh? Because many crocodilians on earth will at times kill its prey and store it in places it can remain submerged so that it begins decomposing, which softens the flesh for when they eat it later. This also might impact how it hunts, since the modern crocodilian hunting strategy usually isn't concerned about ensuring the prey's survival $\endgroup$ Oct 15 at 21:46
  • $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex They do keep their prey alive $\endgroup$ Oct 15 at 21:48
  • $\begingroup$ Do they still hunt like earth crocodilians then? I'd say the classic "bite, drag to water, roll till its dead" strategy they perfected for so long probably wouldn't be the best in such a new scenario. $\endgroup$ Oct 15 at 21:51
  • $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex Yes $\endgroup$ Oct 15 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ Can you clarify these "alligators'" cognitive capacities? Do they gather fibres to make the rope? Do they have rope making machines? Or do they just shit bespoke lengths of nylon cordage? $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Oct 16 at 0:53
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Maybe a think mucus material regurgitated at will by the alligator during the attack. This mucus can then react with the water to produce an extremely stick slime that covers the victim. the more the victim is thrashed around or flail to escape, the more this slime covers them. it then can solidify into a fiberous goo or webbing.

A special enzyme secreted by the alligator protects it from getting entangled itself.

I cant find an example, but I am fairly sure this mechanism does exist in nature already.

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Your crocodilian will have to be pretty different for that to work. Crocodiles are "simple" creatures. They stay in water, they drag prey into the water, they death roll it and drown it. Many Crocodilians also don't mind eating carrion, and thus can store prey underwater to soften up the meat.

Your crocodilians are completely unlike that. Despite also being semiaquatic ambush predators, they do not want their prey to die. That means before worrying about tying anything up, your creature needs to be able to capture it without inflicting excessive damage to it and thus killing it, which honestly puts your creature in a very tight spot regarding what it can do, while also meaning that minimal changes aren't exactly possible, since the crocodilian body plan doesn't harmonize well with such a different non-crocodilian hunting strategy.

With that said: there are a few strategies in nature that allow you to capture prey without having to violently shred it to pieces, crush its airways or sever important blood vessels:

  • webbing. That's right, if your crocodilian could produce webs powerful enough to essentially net prey close to the shore like an ogre spider, you'd have your non-lethal, potentially viable way to both restrain and store prey safely. Problem is: at the very least to be able to employ such a strategy, your crocodilian would need large spinneret organs, long front limbs to anchor the extremities of the web net to and the ability to somehow sneak up on prey close to shore with a potentially very large extended net, which for a creature the size of a crocodile is very problematic.

  • venom. Instead of worrying about troublesome things like webs, why not venom? Several reptiles use it, including the komodo dragon, a well-known persistence predator whose venom is known to not kill the prey outright as it stalks it waiting until it finally dies. Problem is that a crocodilian, unlike a komodo dragon, can't afford to lose its prey or let it roam around, especially if there's venom involved (it is costly to produce), so it'd need stronger venom, except normally stronger, fast acting venoms tends to also be lethal faster, meaning your prey will still die quickly and can't be stored.

  • surprise lobotomy. A last potential solution would be if your crocodilian could do to its prey what parasitic wasps can do to theirs: basically turn them into zombies by damaging their brains and nervous system. That way not only would the prey still be alive and relatively well, as we see with the wasp (since the point is precisely to ensure the thing stays alive) and it's inability to escape or move around on its own will would make the need for webbing or ropes unnecessary. Problem: the procedure parasitic wasps perform is relatively delicate, and the great difference between the brain of arthropods and vertebrates makes it hard to tell if it could be done. Sure, lobotomies on humans can be performed through our noses, but such a delicate procedure is likely not something you'd want to perform on a thrashing prey, lest you risk destroying their brain and killing them. If your crocodilian did perfect such a brain-damaging strategy however, it could ignore the use of any form of restraint, as its prey would be completely docile and almost unable to escape on its own. This however would probably come at the cost of making the crocodilian extremely specialized towards a specific prey species, or at least a small group of closely related prey species similar enough anatomically. They'd probably also need good strength to hold the prey still enough, but this strength wouldn't necessarily be in their Jaws, which could be very different depending on what part of the body is used for the procedure (I'm assuming here mouth, since the limbs or the tail sound like bad choices since we don't want the brain to get infected too fast)

The reason I didn't add "breaking the prey's neck" or "breaking its limbs" is because I'm assuming that if your crocodilians will sacrifice so much in order to be able to keep prey alive, they will not use strategies that would make the prey die not too long after or that would be too risky to perform without killing it most of the time.

Sadly, though, not a single one of these strategies allows for a common crocodilian bodyplan. The body plan of a crocodilian is very specialized to make them efficient at their current hunting strategy and lifestyle. Much like you can't wish for an ostrich to hunt as well as a terrobird with it beak and overall bodyplan, you can't get a predator that is highly adapted to kill prey with power and violence and want it to use a completely different strategy without changing how it looks. A web-making crocodilian will be different, so will one that relies on venom rather than brute force, and the same would apply for a crocodilian that aims at damaging the creature's brain instead of...well, every part of it.

Summing up: can your crocodilian adapt to trap and limit its prey's ability to escape? Probably, but doing so would require it to cease to look like a crocodilian. The hunting strategy you want is far too different to not require some decent restructuring of their anatomy, especially since almost all of these do not require very powerful jaws, since they will not thrash it around to kill it.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good idea for lobotomy, but the wasps are very species-specific to manage the trick, so they'd need a fairly dedicated prey species. Otherwise the brain trauma would kill too many animals. $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    Oct 15 at 22:52
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus my thought process precisely, and being overly dependent on a single species of prey leaves your own species very vulnerable. $\endgroup$ Oct 15 at 22:55
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    $\begingroup$ The ultimate showstopper however is: three minutes without air, three days without water, thirty days without food (it would be technically alive for much longer, but it wouldn't be worth eating anymore). Your lizardfolk would need to feed its prey periodically to keep it alive, which kinda sorta defeats the point of keeping it for later and limits the ways in which it can immobilize it (ropes/web might be fine, severed spine / cerebellum would likely interfere with digestion as well as breathing). $\endgroup$ Oct 16 at 9:26
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A few options:

There are a few things that an alligator-like organism could do to tie up a prey animal.

  • Silk: Just because spiders got it right doesn't mean there's a biochemical reason your alligators can't exude masses of fine silk fibers and store them in a gland somewhere (the end of a flexible tail?) that can then exude stringy silk to wrap the limbs of it's prey.
  • Neurotoxin: They produce a toxin that paralyzes voluntary muscles but still leaves the heart and lungs functioning. So their prey is alive and awake, but simply can't move.
  • Prison: Your alligators use their strength in unexpected ways, bending tree branches of a particular variety of mangrove far apart so the prey animal shoved between the branches can't escape. This could even be a symbiosis with a carnivorous plant that benefits from the scraps and bones left by the alligator's dead prey later. It doesn't require any different anatomy, but does require rudimentary tool use, which may require smarter crocodiles.
  • Crippling: The crudest of the methods here, the alligator simply breaks all the limbs of their prey in multiple places. An extra-flexible tail that can be whipped around like a hammer would be useful here as the alligator hold their prey in its mouth. The prey then is so badly crippled as to be still nearby when the alligator wants a snack. Some may die, but it's still food (just not as yummy).
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Brains and opposing thumbs

I think the question below.is related, though not a duplicate:

How would you design a dragon-like creature so it could sew?

And in my response there I mentioned the Iguanodon, a dinosaur that had very agile digits. Its smallest finger was an opposing digit and could be used for grasping things.

Your alligators could evolve both hands and brain to become the dominant species in the world. They could then make thread out of vines, reeds and other fibers. This would allow them to easily tie prey so that it can be kept alive for a later kill.

Notice that they don't necessarily need to evolve their brains to be as smart as humans. Hominid evolution saw tools being used way before homo Sapiens and neanderthals, and hominids that came before those did not have the brain mass nor sophistication that we do.

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Snakes swallow prey whole

And snake are related to crocodiles. Thus, given the right conditions, crocodiles could potentially evolve the ability to swallow prey whole. This would likely leave their overall strategy, jaw strength, speed, and hunting tactics (and therefore their design) relatively unchanged, because:

  1. Strong jaws will be required to hold large prey so they can't escape while the croc swallows them-not sure if a second pair of jaws or "walking" jaws like a snake would be more feasible/work better for this

  2. Speed and camouflage will allow them to surprise prey, which is logically key to swallowing prey whole for a croc

Why swallowing whole?

After a certain point, it's more energy-efficient. Sure, snakes sometimes get food poisoning or indigestion from rotten meals, but seeing as how crocs regularly drown their prey and let it rot before they eat it, that shouldn't be an issue for your Gorger croc. (It's either Gorger or Deathjaw in my mind, but you go with what works for you.)

How would it work?

Recurved fangs, first and foremost. This would prevent prey escaping, as recurved fangs hook into the flesh and punish escapees with terrible wounds. (Think of it like having fishhooks for teeth.)

Secondly, swallowing. As mentioned above, snakes can "walk" their jaws over their prey, which pythons and anacondas can do to great effect in order to get prey down the hatch. (For more on that, please click here.) However, as constrictors use this on already-dead prey, this likely won't work on struggling prey.

Another option is a set of pharyngeal jaws, like moray eels or xenomorphs, which would literally grab prey in the mouth and drag it down into the stomach.

Finally, you could give it a gape like a shark or thylacine; thylacines had the widest gape in the animal kingdom, and a shark's biting mechanism is pretty much perfect for gulping down prey. If a shark won't work, then go for Dunkleostus.

Alternatives:

If you still want your crocodiles to tie up prey, well, not much options there, but I can try:

  1. Legless lizards are a thing, so why not crocodiles? Then they could tie up the prey with their own body! At that point, though, they'd be constricting...

  2. With a big enough croc, or small enough prey, they could store unfortunate victims in a pouch, much like pelicans, until they get hungry again and swallow the captive prey

  3. Tentacles can wrap and bind prey, so give your crocodiles a long, prehensile tongue (which would basically be a tentacle, and would of course be in conjunction with a throat pouch) and this could work...as long as you can explain it

  4. Bipedal crocs with flexible digits, capable of using tools, is not something I currently have any ideas for. I simply don't understand how this could or would develop, but if I figure it out, I'll edit it in.

Hope it helps!

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