With one notable difference, they could be scenes of everyday recreation in the sunny state of Florida: one tourist playing with a soccer ball, another busily chasing a remote-controlled boat around a lake.
But the remarkable images posted to social media over the past week show alligators, not humans — and appear to confirm a Tennessee studies that said crocodiles also like to have fun.
A picture posted to the Alligators of Florida Facebook page by Sandra Raymon Harrison showed an alligator on the south side of the Big Cypress Reservation with a football in its mouth. How the reptile got the ball and whether it had playmates was not specified.
Commentators who feared the alligator had the ball stuck in its mouth were reassured by experts, who pointed out that the massive force of the creature’s bite could pop the ball in a heartbeat.
The second playful alligator was captured in a short video clip posted on the site from Jacksonville’s ActionNewsJax TV swimming after a remote-controlled boat.
The images were captured by a station producer filming a neighbor launching the ship and noting the alligator swimming after him. The animated alligator changes speed and direction multiple times while the boat hisses in front of it.
Both episodes appear to confirm research by the animal behavior expert at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville Vladimir Dinetswhose study 2015, Playing behavior in crocodilesnoted that such behavior was not uncommon.
“Crocodile social play is almost never reported, but that doesn’t mean it’s particularly rare,” wrote Dinets, after spending more than 3,000 hours observing crocodiles in the wild and in captivity.
He saw alligators playing with river otters in Big Cypress and told the story of a Costa Rican crocodile that bonded with its rescuer.
“Play behavior included swimming and rushing together [him] gaping in mock attacks, sneaking up on him from behind as if to scare him, and accepting to be petted, hugged, turned in the water and kissed on the muzzle,” he wrote.
according to a Scientific daily report Accompanying the study, the results show “[ed] a softer side to the intimidating creatures – one that involves romping with river otters and humans.”
However, a third recent episode of Florida Gators that may have been in play had to be discounted. A video posted to Facebook of what appeared to be a friendly 20ft Alligator named Grandpappy Walking a 6-foot reptile across a Lakeland golf course ended with the smaller of the two being eaten.