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Video shows normal Brazilian caiman behavior, not invading crocodiles

September 21, 2022 GMT

CLAIM: A video shows a large number of crocodiles that invaded a beach in Brazil, sparking panic among nearby residents.

AP’S ASSESSMENT: False. The reptiles are yacare caimans, a species closely related to alligators, not crocodiles, multiple experts told The Associated Press. In the clip, they are congregating near a river during the dry season in Brazil’s Pantanal region to maintain their body temperature. This behavior is common in the area, which contains approximately 10 million yacare caimans, and happens every year.

THE FACTS: People spread a video widely on social media in recent days claiming that crocodiles invaded a beach in Brazil, making locals panic. In the clip, a considerable number of large reptiles are standing relatively still on a strip of sand next to a water source.

“In Brazil, an invasion of crocodiles that have flooded one of the beaches with several hundred, even thousands, and the local population is panicking,” one tweet featuring the video alleged. It received more than 38,000 shares and nearly 169,000 likes as of Tuesday.

The same video and caption also appeared on an Instagram post with nearly 17,000 likes and a tweet with more than 12,000 shares and more than 32,000 likes.”

But these claims are inaccurate for multiple reasons, experts told the AP. First, the reptiles are yacare caimans, not crocodiles. Second, there is nothing unusual about this behavior, which happens each year during the dry season in the Pantanal, the world’s largest tropical wetlands spanning parts of Brazil, Bolivia and Paraguay. Third, the Pantanal region is nowhere near the beach and a voiceover in the clip identifies the location as a river, stating in Portuguese: “For you guys who had never seen an alligator, Nabileque River. Pantanal, Mato Grosso do Sul, city of Corumbá.”

“This looks like a typical aggregation of yacare caiman in the Pantanal during periods of low water,” Kent Vliet, an alligator biologist at the University of Florida, said in an email. “This is a common occurrence. Local inhabitants would be completely accustomed to this phenomenon.”

Igor Joventino Roberto, a biologist who studies reptiles at the Universidade Federal do Cariri in northern Brazil, and Luís Antonio Bassetti, an ecologist at the Universidade de São Paulo, agreed with Vliet’s assessment.

“This is a common behavior for the Caiman yacare species,” Bassetti wrote in an email. “The last few years have been difficult for the species because of the severe droughts. Seeking for their survival, these animals tend to concentrate on remaining bodies of water during these periods.”

It is unclear who took the original footage, but it appeared on several online platforms on Aug. 25, nearly a month before the recent false claims, where it was posted by locals who did not claim the creatures were crocodiles nor that they were causing alarm.

Pantanal Pesca, a fishing store near the Pantanal in the city Campo Grande, posted the clip on Instagram that day. “‘I think there’s a little water in this alligator’ lol,” its caption read in Portuguese. “I’ve never seen so many together like this…”

Gustavo Paiva, owner of Pantanal Pesca, told the AP in an Instagram message written in Portuguese that neither he nor anyone else at Pantanal Pesca had filmed the video, but that “this is a very common image in our wetland.”

The footage was also posted on YouTube the same day by Paulo Horta, an amateur fisherman who lives in Campo Grande. A caption for the video stated in Portuguese: “Alligators in the Nabileque River Pantanal of Mato Grosso do Sul.” Horta also told the AP that he did not film the video, and that a friend sent it to him.

Crocodiles do not live in Brazil, according to Brandon Sideleau, a crocodile specialist based in southern California who maintains a crocodile attack database called CrocAttack. Additionally, while yacare caimans are a communal species, crocodiles are territorial and do not gather in large groups, he said.

According to Sideleau, yacare caimans can be identified by their snouts, which are shorter than both alligators and crocodiles, as well as ridges above their eyes and black blotches on their lower jaws. He added that they also have “just a different bodily appearance” than crocodiles.

He told the AP that yacare caimans flock to remaining water during the Pantanal’s dry season in order to maintain their body temperature, similar to other reptiles.

“They’re laying in the sun, they’re heating up,” he said when shown the video clip. “And then once they heat up they’ll go back into the water. And so typically you’ll see that kind of basking mostly in the afternoon and the morning. Midday you’ll see more of them getting into the water because it gets really hot and then of course at night the air’s a little cooler so they’ll be in the water as well trying to get warm.”

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This is part of AP’s effort to address widely shared misinformation, including work with outside companies and organizations to add factual context to misleading content that is circulating online. Learn more about fact-checking at AP.