Yes, crocodiles and alligators feel pain. They feel pain as much as many animals do. Despite the thick hide of crocodiles and alligators, their scales and bony plates have sensitive nerve endings.
Although crocodiles and alligators have nerve endings, it is not quite enough to prove whether or not they feel pain. Tactile reception is different from pain. Scientists know that they have the neuroanatomy to feel pain like humans and other animals do.
Can crocodiles and alligators feel pain?
The truth of the matter is that scientists do not yet fully understand if crocodiles and alligators feel pain. They are only assumed because they have the necessary physical components to feel pain.
As far as evolution is concerned, it is rare for an animal to possess a characteristic that is not in use. So, in the case of the crocs and gators, it is reasonable to assume that they can feel pain.
Why is this hard to answer? Pain is different from feeling. In humans who have been injected with anesthesia, they can still feel that something is going on, but the pain is not there.
Because of this phenomenon, scientists are not sure if crocodiles and gators are like humans injected with anesthesia—they can feel, but there is no pain.
Some peoplesaid farmed alligators thrash after the butchers cut off their legs and tails. The gators were alive during the slaughter process.
After the butchers put the alligators in a bin of cold ice, they continued to writhe—a behavior that animals do when in extreme pain. Animals that do not feel pain do not writhe—they just move, but they do not suffer any form of anguish.
This observation comes from PETA, an animal rights activist group. They did a documentary on the alligator farming process to expose what the animals go through. Alligators are the source of expensive leather that people use for branded bags.
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How sensitive are crocodiles and alligators?
They are highly sensitive. Both gators and crocs have a series of pigmented domes on their skin. For gators, these spots are concentrated on their face and jaws.
These spots have a collection of touch sensors. A study published in the Journal of Experimental Biology revealed that these sensors could detect both pressure and vibration.
The study also suggested that the sense of touch of crocodylians is more sensitive than human fingertips.
The result of the study was unprecedented. The common logic was that since crocodiles and alligators have thick hides, then it must follow that they have poor sensory perception.Today, these sensors are officially named integumentary sensor organs or ISOs.
In the beginning, scientists thought that the only purpose of these sensors was to feel water ripples. Over time, various hypotheses were put on the table, and some fascinating facts came to light.
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Are crocodile and alligator jaws sensitive?
Yes, they are sensitive. Alligators are particularly sensitive in the jaw compared to their cousins, the crocodiles. Alligators have 4,000 tiny raised black spots on their heads.
Although crocodiles have a pretty similar number of these spots on their jaws and heads, they also have many spots sprinkled on the rest of their bodies. The total number is about 9,000 spots.
It was back in 2002 when researchers cracked the purposes of these spots. Their purpose is to detect ripples in the water. Crocodiles and alligators are so sensitive that they can feel a drop of water while in a pond.
Related Article: Do Alligators Have Ears and How Well Can They Hear?
How do the crocodile and alligator ISOs or domes work?
To understand the ISOs of crocodiles, researchers dissected these tactile domes. What they found were nerve endings.These nerve endings can sense vibrations. There were also clusters of cells that responded to pressure.
In an experiment, the researchers touched the jaws of the gators with tiny hair. Scientists use this method to measure sensitivity, especially for humans. They found out that crocodiles are more sensitive to human touch.
The same researchers made a discovery about how sensitive crocs are. They observed captive Nile crocodiles. At night, the crocodiles reacted to the slightest movement of prey. Their reaction time was less than 50 milliseconds.
What makes the crocodiles amazing is that when they react, they do not do so randomly. They do not just bite things that happen to pass by. They seem to know if the thing moving in the water is food or not.
Their jaws are so sensitive that scientists now say it has something to do with how they help hatch eggs. In the wild, some crocodiles and alligators bite their eggs to help the young get out. They even bite their baby gators to bring them into the water.
It is a wonder because crocodiles and alligators have such powerful bites. It is seemingly impossible for a predator to handle their babies with such care—the discovery of the ISOs and the nerve endings in their domes clear this issue now.
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How do crocodiles and alligators sense their prey?
Crocodiles and alligators have super senses. They have thermal sensitivity, and they can detect tiny disturbances in their surroundings.
The thing with their ISOs is that they do not only have one. Some crocodiles have three to four ISOs in each scale.
In addition to this, the functions of the receptors vary. Those that are on the jaws are mechanoreceptors. They detect pressure changes. So, if a fish comes swimming by croc’s head, the croc can feel the pressure change in the water.
Gators and crocs have heads that can give them directional sense. They know where the movement is coming from, and they use this sense to hunt prey.
Related Article: Do Crocodiles Eat Turtles?
It is not known with 100% certainty if crocodiles and alligators feel pain. The theory is they do feel pain because they have the neuroanatomy to feel pain. They also have super sensitive heads and jaws where thousands of spots or ISOs are located.
Crocodiles and alligators can feel ripples in the water, and this is how they detect prey. Whether or not they feel pain as humans and other sentient animals do is still a mystery.