Alligators are taking over the Upper West Side—and no, we’re not talking about the ones (allegedly) swimming around in the sewers. In conjunction with “Dinosaurs Among Us,” the American Museum of Natural History’s exhibit on the evolutionary connection between dinosaurs and birds, the museum is highlighting our feathered friends’ closest living relative with “Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World.”
“I think visitors are going to walk away with a whole different perspective on what crocodiles are, what birds are and what dinosaurs are,” says Mark Norell, the curator of “Crocs” and the museum’s chair and Macaulay curator in the Division of Paleontology. While those of the crocodilian species—which includes alligators, crocodiles, caimans and gharials—vary wildly in their sizes, outer casings and reputations, Norell is quick to point out their similarities: advanced lungs, a four-chambered heart (most reptiles have three), and nesting and child-rearing behaviors.
In addition to learning about 200 million years of crocodilians, you can delve into the lives of the aquatic predators with life-size models and interactive components: Compare your strength against that of a crocodile (you’re stronger than a hatchling, and that’s probably about it), and master how to speak like a gator by mimicking examples of the complex hisses, grunts and pips they use to communicate. You can also check out how different species of crocs have developed to fit their environment, from the mostly terrestrial species that prey in the jungles to those that prefer life under the water.
Perhaps the biggest draw, however, is the live crocodiles also on display. “Seeing living animals is really neat, and seeing them in the context of a small space particularly so,” says Norell. “When you see them in zoos, they can be pretty far away and sluggish when they’re outside on a cooler day.” Swimming along AMNH’s shores (a.k.a. displays) are the endangered Siamese crocodile, the “highly secretive” African slender-snouted crocodile, the American alligator and the African dwarf crocodile, which usually grow to be less than five feet long.
Catch them while you can, because these crocs and gators will be saying, “Later!” in January.
Crocs: Ancient Predators in a Modern World” opens Sat 28. $27, seniors and students $22, children $16.
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