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Crikey! Crocodiles Can Climb Trees (But They Don’t Flaunt It)

Forget leapin' lizards. It's climbin' crocodiles you have to worry about.

New research finds that — yikes — crocodiles can climb trees, even reaching the uppermost branches. Four species found on three continents showed this behavior, which may help the reptiles regulate their body temperature and survey their habitat.

In a study published online Jan. 25 in Herpetology Notes, researchers said the crocodiles tended to bask in trees when "there were few places to bask on the ground, implying that the individuals needed alternatives for regulating their body temperature." [Alligator Alley: Pictures of Monster Reptiles]

Like other reptiles, crocodiles are ectothermic (also called "cold-blooded"), meaning they can't regulate their own body temperature and so must rely on outside sources such as the sun.

Previous reports from locales such as Mexico, Colombia, Indonesia and Botswana have described crocs basking in trees. A photographer even snapped a shot of a croc cousin, the American alligator, in a tree about 4 to 6 feet above the water at the Pearl River Delta in Mississippi.

University of Tennessee zoologist Vladimir Dinets and his colleagues documented tree-basking crocs in Australia, North America and Africa. The champion climbers were Central Africa's slender-snouted species. One 4.5-foot-long croc was seen roosting at the end of a fallen tree. To get there, it would have had to scale a 13-foot-high bank and then crawl 13 feet out on a sloping branch.

Dinets never saw crocs in the process of climbing, and when approached, the animals in trees always jumped or fell into the water. "This shyness might explain why tree-climbing behavior in crocodilians remains relatively little known despite being relatively common," the researchers wrote.

This is a condensed version of a report from LiveScience. Read the full report. Follow Stephanie Pappas on Twitter and Google+. Follow LiveScience on Twitter, Facebook and Google+.