Just when you thought crocodiles couldn’t get any any more hardcore, they take to the air. While on a crocodile project sponsored by the National Geographic Society, photographer Trevor Frost filmed this incredible clip of a saltwater crocodile launching its entire body out of the water to get at a chunk of meat dangling above the surface.

As unlikely as it may seem, this behaviour isn’t actually all that unusual. Crocs are ambush predators known for their ability to lunge explosively out of the water to latch onto unsuspecting prey drinking at the water’s edge. This movement is usually more horizontal than vertical, but much of the physiology is the same. So how do they do it? After locking in on its prey using impressive binocular vision, the crocodile will flick its powerful tail in a wavelike motion to push its body upwards and out of the water. It does this from a stationary position and can get airborne in just a few seconds.

While hunting at the water’s edge, crocodiles can also use their feet to push off the ground like spring-loaded pistons to help launch a speedy attack. Vertical "leaping" requires deeper water and relies more on tail power. It’s usually the youngsters that use this "breaching" tactic to nab insects clinging to aquatic grasses near the surface. The bigger the croc, the harder it is to get out of the water, so adult crocodiles usually avoid full vertical leaps; however, they can be enticed to launch themselves out of the water with the lure of food. In this case, the jumping spectacle was in the name of science, but sadly, this amazing ability is often exploited as a tourist attraction by croc farms.

Top header image: Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr