Gator Eats Croc!
Today, I'm starting the first of several posts on the American alligator, or Alligator mississippiensis. Over the next couple of weeks, I'll be sharing some fantastic photos and some interesting information that might be brand new to many of you. But the very first thing on my agenda is this: Alligators and Crocodiles are not the same animal. Nope. And I know there is some confusion about this, because I live in a state filled with alligators, and visited by tourists from many other countries who frequently refer to them as crocs. Even folks who realize gators and crocs are two different reptiles, often don't know how to tell them apart. Therefore, I thought explaining how to do so would be a good place to kick off this series. The animal above, by the way, is an alligator, not to be confused with a crocodile. The shoe above is a Croc, also not to be confused with a crocodile. Now let's get down to some comparisons that might actually help you distinguish between these two large predators.
The Difference is Mostly in the Head
As you can tell from the above photo, the alligator on the left has a broadly rounded, duck-bill shaped nose. The crocodile on the right has a narrow, much more sharply pointed nose. For me, this has always been a dead give away (pardon the phrasing.) There are other scientific differences, and different configurations of teeth, but my motto in identifying almost anything is to look for the easiest to spot clue. I think the head shape is the one. But what if you aren't standing directly over the reptile in question, able to get a view like this? Good news. They aren't the same color, and they have different profiles, too.
Alligator on left. Crocodile on right.
Here's a different angle on our subjects. A medium-sized alligator and a larger crocodile on a nicely manicured lawn. (One hopes that this is in a reptile exhibit somewhere, and not in someone's backyard!) The obvious difference shown in this photo is the coloration. Alligators tend to be darker than crocodiles, usually very dark olive-gray to black for adults. The crocs lean more toward lighter gray or tan. You can also see differences in the head shape, even at this angle. The alligator's face is more "dished out," I would say, and the croc has a bit of a Roman nose thing going on. Let's study this in a few more pictures.
Note the wide, rounded head of this alligator . . .
...and the scooped profile of this one, compared to . . .
. . . the pointed snout and level profile on this crocodile . . .
. . . and this one. (Notice, too, the lighter color of each croc.)
Another photo for comparison in color, and general head shape.
Another excellent example of the head of a crocodile. Pointy nose, for sure!
And, if you've been paying close attention, you'll know this head is attached to an alligator.
Because the alligator portion of this series is going to be spread over several posts, I'm going to focus on on the crocodile for this next part. Namely, a few facts for you to know about the American crocodile. While there are only two species of alligator in the world, the American and the Chinese (which is much, much smaller), there are several species of crocodile, with the Nile crocodile being the most famous. Our crocodile, or Crocodylus acutus, is found in the southern part of Florida, chiefly in or near the outskirts of the Everglades. Once in a great while, one wanders a bit farther north, two having been spotted clear up around the Tampa Bay area, but they are mainly residents of the southern part of the state. In contrast, the American alligator is found statewide, and north into Georgia, the Carolinas, Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Arkansas, east Texas, and a bit of Oklahoma! Whoa. Who knew?
Croc. (But you knew that, didn't you? )
The average length for an adult male American crocodile ranges from 9'6" to a maximum of about 13', with a maximum weight of around 842 lbs. Females are smaller, ranging from 8'2" to just under 10', with a maximum weight of about 381 lbs. The fact that these reptiles are far more susceptible to cold temperatures than alligators explains why they are mostly found in the southern part of the state. They are much more at home in salt water than alligators are, and are often seen in the sea, as well as marine estuaries. The narrow snout of the young crocs is ideal for catching fish, which comprise the bulk of their diet. As they age, the snout broadens enough that their diet expands to include birds and game, as well.
Small Crocodile Enjoying the Sun
The last assessment of the American crocodile population in Florida was conducted in 1996, at which time, estimates ranged from 500 to 1200 individuals in south Florida. In 2007, these reptiles were downgraded from Endangered to Threatened status, so I'm guessing that means the population has grown in the last 40 years. Go crocs.
So there you have some data on the crocodile, and you'll be receiving lots more on the alligator in future posts. But for now, let's go back to comparison photos.
Overhead shot clearly showing head shape and color of this American crocodile.
Notice again, the darker coloration on this alligator, and the NON-pointy nose.
Profile shot, showing straight line from eyes to nose tip on this lighter gray crocodile.
Profile shot showing very happy gator and very unlucky gar.
And oh, yes, the dished out nose thing, along with the darker color.
And everyone loves baby pictures, right? So, here's this:
From the top: American crocodile, Spectacled caiman (not native to Florida),
and American alligator. Even this young, you can see the distinct difference in head shapes.
And there you have this week's post. Hope it helps you understand how to tell the difference between an American alligator and an American crocodile. Next week, more information on our central Florida gators! Don't forget to check back then. In the meantime, remember just about every body of water in this area can (and usually does) support a resident gator or two. Be careful where you dangle your toes!
Can You See Me Now?
How about now?
See you next week!