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Crocodile Tears

Henreich Kley (1863-1945) Titled "Leben und Ausleben Lassen" (Live and Let Live), the work depicts a crocodile with top hat and walking stick being chased by a tiger and nude woman. A frog with top hat is seen holding a champagne bottle to the right in the background, 1919

Crocodile Day

Jun 17

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail,
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin,
How neatly spreads his claws,
And welcomes little fishes in,
With gently smiling jaws!"

~ Lewis Carroll, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, 1865

Boo hoo hoo! The phrase "crocodile tears" (meaning a superficial sympathy or a false, insincere display of emotion) derives from the ancient belief that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey, and exists in many modern languages. False tears notwithstanding, the disconcerting smiles of crocodilians have always been met with great (and reasonable) trepidation by humankind. Alligators and caimans, though not as large and smiling figure prominently in the folklore of their American habitats. In Cajun and south Louisiana folklore, an alligator crawling under your house is thought to bring bad fortune! And in South America, the Hombre Caiman, (Alligatorman) is a fearsome creature with both Alligator and human features who is said to return every year on St. Sebastian´s Day to hunt human victims! Yikes! See you later alligator! In a while, crocodile! 🐊 🐊🐊

Crocodile Tears

World Crocodile Day was established as global awareness campaign to highlight the plight of endangered crocodiles and alligators around the world.


Despite being entirely different animals (sharing the order Crocodilia, but not a family), crocodiles and alligators can be distinguished easily by several features, including their smiles.

In both animals' lower jaws, they have a long tooth on either side. When crocodiles close their mouths, you can see these long teeth protrude from their faces. Alligators, on the other hand, slip them into sockets in their upper jaw.  Also, crocodiles tend to have V-shaped faces, while alligators have shorter, U-shaped snouts and a generally greener skin.

In terms of geography, crocodiles are much more common, inhabiting a good chunk of the eastern hemisphere and Central America. Alligators are more modest in their population, living mostly in South America and the southern United States, with a tiny pocket in China.


The expression "to shed crocodile tears" meaning a superficial sympathy or a false, insincere display of emotion, is an ancient one, and is derived from an actual phenomenon observed in crocodiles, though it appears to be a reflex action triggered by feeding and possibly, the rush of airs through the sinuses, triggering the tear ducts.

However, it was originally believed that crocodiles shed tears while consuming their prey. A collection of proverbs attributed to Plutarch suggests that the phrase "crocodile tears" was well known in antiquity: comparing the crocodile's behaviour to people who desire or cause the death of someone, but then publicly lament for them.  This expression occurs in many languages, having been introduced in Europe in the original Latin.  An alternative meaning exists,  introduced by 16th century  writer, Edward Topsell, who wrote: "There are not many brute beasts that can weep, but such is the nature of the crocodile that, to get a man within his danger, he will sob, sigh, and weep as though he were in extremity, but suddenly he destroyeth him." In this version, the crocodile pretends to be in distress to lure prey into a false sense of security.

Regardless of the insincerity attributed to them, many crocodilians (including alligators, crocodiles, caiman and gharials) are threatened by the leather trade or habitat encroachment.  Learn more here.

And although there are no real native modern Scottish crocodilians, a prehistoric fossil of crocodile relatives, called atoposaurids, has been found on the Isle of Skye - these small crocodile creatures coexisted with the dinosaurs during the Mesozoic era and unique for their semiaquatic lifestyle and “dwarfed” size—they were no more than 1 foot long fully grown.


If you are in Scotland, you can still see a resident crocodile in the form of the  "Crocodile Rock" a painted rock formation in Millport, Scotland.  To learn more about this 1913 reptilian graffiti art, click the picture below.

Crocodile Tears
Crocodile Tears

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