In the southeast region of the provincial plains of Buenos Aires, you might come across the Cubelli Lagoon, familiarly known as the "Lake of the Dancing Alligator." This popular name is expressive and graphic, but — just as Doctor Ludwig Boitus established — it is inaccurate.
In the first place, "lagoon" and "lake" are distinct hydrographic occurrences. Secondly, though the alligator — Caiman yacare (Daudin), of the Alligatoridae family — is common to America, this lagoon is not the habitat for any species of alligator.
Its waters are extremely salty, and its fauna and flora are what you would expect for creatures that inhabit the sea. For this reason, it cannot be considered unusual that in this lagoon a population of approximately 130 marine crocodiles are to be found.
The "marine crocodile," that is, the Crocodilus porosus (Schneider), is the largest of all living reptiles. It commonly reaches a length of some seven meters (23 feet), weighing more than a ton. Doctor Boitus affirms having seen, along the coasts of Malaysia, several of them that were over nine meters (30 feet) in length, and, in fact, has taken and brought back photographs that supposedly prove the existence of such large individuals. But, as they were photographed in marine waters, without external points of reference, it is not possible to determine precisely if those crocodiles were truly the size attributed to them by Doctor Boitus. It would of course be absurd to doubt the word of an investigator with such a brilliant career (even though his language is rather baroque), but scientific rigor requires that the facts be validated by inflexible methods that, in this case, were not put to use.
Well then, it happens that the crocodiles of the Cubelli Lagoon possess exactly the taxonomic characteristics of those that live in the waters around India, China, and Malaysia; hence, they should by all rights be called marine crocodiles or Crocodili porosi. However, there are some differences,which Doctor Boitus has divided into morphological traits and ethological traits.
Among the former, the most important (or, better said, the only) is size. Whereas the marine crocodile of Asia can be up to seven meters long, the one we have in the Cubelli Lagoon scarcely reaches, in the best of cases, two meters (6 feet 6 inches), measuring from the tip of the snout to the tip of the tail.
Regarding its ethology, this crocodile is "fond of musically harmonized movements" according to Boitus (or, to use the simpler term preferred by those in the town of Cubelli, "dancing"). As anyone knows, as long as crocodiles are on land, they are as harmless as a flock of pigeons. They can only hunt and kill when in the water, which is their vital element. They trap their prey between their toothy jaws, then rotate rapidly, spinning until their victim is dead; their teeth have no masticatory function, being designed exclusively to imprison and swallow a victim whole.
If we go to the shores of the Cubelli Lagoon and start to play music, having previously chosen something appropriate for dancing, right away we will see that — let's not say all — almost all the crocodiles rise out of the water and, once on land, begin to dance to the beat of the tune in question.
For such anatomical and behavioral reasons, this saurian has received the name Crocodilus pusillus saltator (Boitus).
Their tastes are varied and eclectic, and they do not seem to distinguish between esthetically worthy music and music of little merit. Popular tunes delight them no less than symphonic compositions for ballet.
These crocodiles dance in an upright position, balancing only on their hind legs, reaching an average height of one meter, seventy centimeters (5 feet 8 inches). In order not to drag on the ground, their tails rise at an acute angle, roughly parallel to their spines. At the same time, their front limbs (which we could well call hands) follow the beat with various amusing gestures, while their yellow teeth form a wide smile, exuding enthusiasm and satisfaction.
Some townspeople are not in the least attracted by the idea of dancing with crocodiles, but many others do not share this aversion. It's a fact, every Saturday when the sun goes down they put on their party clothes and gather on the shore of the lagoon.There the Cubelli Social Club has set up everything necessary to make the evening unforgettable. Likewise, people can dine in the restaurant that has arisen not far from the dance floor.
The arms of the crocodile are rather short and cannot embrace the body of their partner. The gentleman or lady dancing with the male or female crocodile that has chosen them places both hands on one of their partner's shoulders. To achieve this, one's arms must be stretched to the maximum at a certain distance; as the snout of a crocodile is quite pronounced, one must take the precaution of standing as far back as possible. Though disagreeable episodes have occasionally occurred (such as nasal excision, explosion of ocular globes, or decapitation), it must not be forgotten that, as their teeth may contain the remains of cadavers, the breath of this reptile is far from being attractive.
According to Cubellian legend, occupying the small island in the center of the lagoon are the king and queen of the crocodiles, who it seems have never left it. They say they are each more than two centuries old and, perhaps owing to their advanced age, perhaps owing simply to whim, they have never wished to participate in the dances organized by the Social Club.
The get-togethers do not last much past midnight, for at that hour the crocodiles begin to tire, and maybe to get a little bored; in addition, they feel hungry and, as their access to the restaurant is prohibited, they want to return to the water in search of food.
When no more crocodiles remain on terra firma, the ladies and gentlemen go back to town, rather tired and a little sad, but with the hope that, maybe at the next dance, or perhaps at a later one, the crocodiles' king, or the queen, or even both together, might abandon their island for a few hours and participate in the party. If this were to happen, each gentleman, though he takes care not to show it, harbors the illusion that the queen of the crocodiles will choose him for her dance partner; the same is true of all the ladies, who dream of dancing with the king.
"La albufera de Cubelli" was originally published in Cuadernos del Minotauro (edited by Valent'n Pérez Venzalá), Ano IV, No. 6, Madrid, 2008, pp. 117-120. The present English version was translated from a slightly modified text.