When someone feigns sadness or shows dishonest remorse, they are said to shed “crocodile tears”. The term is often associated with the false display of feelings such as regret, sadness, and empathy. While people consider the saying only metaphorical, crocodiles, caimans, crocodiles, and gharials shed tears while devouring their prey. But why do crocodiles shed their tears in the first place?
Yes, expression has biological significance! It is backed by research to find out the truth behind “crocodile tears”. However, in the early 18th century, Johann Jacob, a Swiss physician and naturalist, declared that the popular belief that crocodiles shed tears while eating was incorrect. In 1927, scientist George Johnson rubbed onion and salt into a crocodile’s eyes to see if they were crying. When they didn’t, Johnson concluded that the popular notion of crocodile tears was a myth.
However, several years later, in 2006, Dr. Malcolm Schanner, a neurologist, and zoologist Kent A. Violet filmed five of the seven members of the crocodile family (the alligator and the caiman) shedding tears as they ate.
Do crocodiles shed tears because they feel sorry for their prey?
Crocodiles shed tears while eating their prey. However, they are not tears of remorse or remorse. This is what gave rise to the saying “crocodile tears”. But if crocodiles do not grieve when they eat their prey, then why do they cry?
Popular legend says that crocodiles cry when they devour humans. In contrast, the real truth is far from that. Crocodiles hiss and squeak as they feed, forcing air through their nasal sinuses. This causes the tear film (a thin layer that holds tears in place) in crocodile eyes to be pushed out of the tear duct. The tear film surrounds the outer surface of an alligator’s eye and prevents the natural evaporation of tears to keep the eyes moist. It is the result of a torn film that causes a crocodile to gush in tears as it devours its prey.
The researchers also noticed bubbles and foam in the eyes of some of the crocodiles as they walked away from their food. This is also the result of tears interacting with substances such as proteins. Furthermore, the crocodile tear film is exceptionally effective compared to that of a human. The reason behind this is the excessive number of proteins, mucus and electrolytes. Therefore, a crocodile can go without blinking for up to two hours, while the average human blinks about 15 times per minute to keep its eyes moist.
Another interesting thing about crocodile tears is that they are a rich source of nutrition for some organisms. This is correct! Insects such as butterflies and bees have been recorded feeding on crocodile tears for minerals.
How did crocodile tears come into being?
The first printed reference to crocodile crying can be traced back to Sir John Mandeville’s travel notes, which were first distributed in 1357. He wrote, “In this strife… wepynge.” This meant that there were many crocodiles in that country. These serpents slaughter men and eat them crying.”
However, the earliest pictorial reference to crocodile tears belongs to Edmund Grindal (Archbishop of York and Canterbury). In 1563, he wrote, “I began to fear, lest his humility be… a false humility, and his tears crocodile tears.” The same was republished in 1711 in Strype’s Life of Grindal.
Shakespeare also referred to crocodile tears in several of his plays, including Othello (1603). In Act 4, Scene 1, Othello discredits Desdemona as he cries-
“If the earth could be filled with a woman’s tears, / Every drop she sheds would prove to be a crocodile.”
The following animal sayings are not only metaphorical!
Interestingly, “crocodile tears” isn’t the only term that has biological significance. These animal expressions also have a logical explanation behind their origin.
1 Monkey Sees, Monkey Does.
“The monkey sees, the monkey does” is a common phrase people use when they want to emphasize one’s tendency to imitate something someone else is doing. The phrase is most commonly used in the context of children because they tend to imitate their parents or siblings. A Dictionary of Hunting Phrases by Eric Patridge (a New Zealand/British author of dictionaries) says that the phrase originated in the 1920s.
However, according to a 2006 journal published by Pier F Ferrari on Rhesus Macaques, monkeys show tendencies to genuinely imitate human actions. Various experiments concluded that monkeys can imitate human facial gestures such as opening the mouth, smacking the lips, opening the hand, protruding the tongue, etc.
2 To make a beeline to …
“Make a beeline for…” means to go straight for something that follows the shortest path. This phrase was first used in a newspaper in the early 19th century, where they talked about a horse returning home after a sled accident as a direct line to home.
This term makes sense because a foraging bee heads straight to the hive after finding a source of nectar. The bee then performs a movement called a “waggle dance” to communicate the location of the nectar to other bees. The waggle dance involves a short, wobbly track that follows the angle of the nectar’s direction. This is how the bee directs other bees to the nectar, that is, by means of a direct line to it.
3 Look what the cat has run into.
When someone says, “Look what the cat dragged,” they are calling attention to who has entered a space, such as a room or hall. The term is often used derisively to indicate that a person entering a room is unwelcome.
The original idea behind this saying is the strange behavior of pet cats. Cats are natural predators and they love to hunt. Therefore, they will take prey whenever they get the chance, and more often than not, they will bring their injured prey home with them. Cats do this to teach their family members, the humans, how to hunt. However, the prey is often covered in blood, dirt, etc., giving it a repulsive appearance. Therefore, the phrase “look what the cat dragged” meant that the person who entered the room was completely unwelcome.
4 Get your ducks in a row.
“Getting your ducks in a row” means making all the necessary preparations or organizing everything for something. The earliest mention of the term can be traced back to an article in The Plaindealer (November 15, 1889).
Like many species of birds, ducklings also have the ability to recognize their mother and siblings on sight. It ensures that the ducklings follow their mother and don’t wander off with another duck’s mother, i.e. their mother gets “the ducks in a row”. Interestingly, ducklings show a tendency to follow anything that moves around them if they are separated from their mother in the first days of birth.
5 Taking a nap…
Taking a “cat nap” means snoozing for a short time or having a short, light sleep. The first mention of the phrase is in The Son of Tarzan, a novel written by Edgar Rice Burroughs in 1916.
Cats are great hunters and prefer to save their energy for hunting. Therefore, if you have a cat, you will often find her napping. In fact, the average cat sleeps about 15 hours a day! However, the average cat sleep can range from only 50 to 113 minutes. Moreover, cats sleep more during the day and remain active at night. This is because cats are nocturnal creatures that prefer to hunt during the night.