Egyptian plover photo - Pluvianus aegyptius - G | Arkive
This description of a bird that cleans the teeth of crocodiles has this into a mutual relationship between crocodile and bird is going a bit far. The Egyptian Plover Bird, as the name suggests is found in Egypt in Africa. Crocodiles on the river Nile are the ones that benefit from their service. The Egyptian plover (Pluvianus aegyptius), also known as the crocodile bird, is a wader, the is one of several plovers doubtfully associated with the "trochilus" bird mentioned in a supposed cleaning symbiosis with the Nile crocodile.
Egyptian plover - Wikipedia
This is supposed to be an Egyptian bird that flies into the mouth of a basking crocodile and feeds on scraps of food and leeches attached to the jawline and tongue. Herodotus describes it as follows: This benefits the crocodile, who is pleased, and takes care not to hurt the trochilus.
This description of a bird that cleans the teeth of crocodiles has undoubtedly entered popular culture, so much so that crocodiles are often used by advertising agencies to promote dental hygiene. But is it true? Do plovers or indeed any other birds actually clean the teeth of crocodiles?
Crocodile and the Plover Bird
However, there's more to this story than just a simple yes or no. First off, there's no evidence anywhere in photographs or film to show birds cleaning crocodile teeth or ripping leeches from their tongue with the exception of that particularly clever digital fake you see above; click on it for the full version and no published reports of it in peer-reviewed literature.
- Egyptian plover
I'd have thought a mutual relationship of this kind would have been easily observed by now. Secondly, contrary to popular belief crocodiles do not need their teeth cleaning.
They regularly shed their teeth and replace them with new ones: Tooth decay, broken teeth and staining are never a permanent problem for a crocodile.
Thirdly, food simply cannot get stuck between their teeth - they are too widely spaced for food particles to get jammed in there, and they are regularly washed with water every time the crocodile slides off the bank. While bacteria and microscopic particles can indeed become prevalent around the base of the teeth, these are not problems that are going to be solved by the pecking of a bird large or small.
Leeches are another matter, and crocodiles certainly suffer from these insidious passengers. It's generally thought that gaping the mouth during the day helps a crocodile to dry its mouth and hence discourage leeches, but do birds also help out? If they do, it hasn't been documented as such.
This tiny bird is called the Egyptian Plover bird. What does she do with them? She eats them and often this completes her diet. So, the Plover bird gets her food and the crocodile gets his mouth cleaned. In this way, both are able to help each other! Let us get to know a little bit more about these creatures: A crocodile is a carnivore which means it eats all kinds of animals that live in the water and even cattle.
They have strong jaws. They do not chew their food, just swallow the entire prey into their stomach where it is broken down. It is while swallowing that the bits of flesh get stuck in their teeth. You will find them swimming just like this beneath the surface of water with their eyes and nostrils just above. Often you will find them lazing around in the sun with their mouth wide open.
They have powerful jaw muscles and can keep their mouth open for a long time. Let us look at the Plover Bird closely. She lives in pairs or in small groups near water bodies, just like our crocodile does. She flies in groups.