Crocodiles Vs. Alligators (Complete Guide)

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Leigh Bedford, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crocodiles and alligators are the only animals that are close to the dinosaurs. These animals have been a year for more than 70 million years. For all that long, these reptiles have changed so little in terms of appearance and behavior. Both the crocodiles and the alligators are almost the same in size, appearance, and behavior, and this makes it so difficult to tell the difference.

This article seeks to give a clear difference between the crocodiles and alligators so that it will be easy for everyone to distinguish. It will give you some of the features you can spot in order to tell which animal it is.

Crocodiles

Richard Fisher, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Crocodiles are large animals that live partly in water and sometimes on land, and they are mainly found in Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia. These reptiles have a physical feature that allows them to be a successful predator. It has an external morphology that shows it has an aquatic and predatory lifestyle. The body is also streamlined, and this enables it to swiftly swim and also tucks its feet on the side, and this makes it fast and with less resistance. They have webbed legs that are important in helping them make a fast turn and other moves while still in the water.

Alligators

Wilafa, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The alligator is a crocodilian that belongs to the genus Alligator of the Alligatoridae family. Alligators are also large, and the adult ones are black or dark olive-brown with white undersides, whether young ones have black, yellow, or whitish stripes. They originate from the United States and China.

Differences

As you start to see the difference between the alligators and the crocodiles, the first factor you should consider is the location. For instance, if you are in the US, it will be difficult to find crocodiles unless you are in the southern part of Florida, and any other crocodile-like animal you see will be an alligator. Alligators, on the other hand, are found in most parts of the United States, and it means the highest probability will be that you are seeing them.

Another factor to consider is the environment. This is because the crocodiles will be able to open streams due to their ability to regulate the salt while the alligator mostly will. Choose to stay close to the shores and remains in swamplands and lakes. The other factor you need to take a keen look at is the color of the animal. If you find that this animal is light green, brown, or light gray, there is a higher possibility that you see a crocodile. Mostly in the United States, most of the crocodiles are always slate gray. If you find that the animal is dark green or has black scales, it means that that is an alligator.  The alligator has colors that help it to blend with mud.

1. SNOUTS

One of the main and visible differences between crocodiles and alligators is the shape of their snouts. The alligators have a broad snout, and it is U-shaped, while the crocodile has a longer and narrower snout that is V-shaped. The jaws of a crocodile are close from the top down rather than the bottom up.

 The difference in their shape is because of their eating habits, more so breaking of the turtle shells, while the crocodile snouts are more suited to hunting the general animals such as reptiles, fish, and mammals.

2. habitat

Crocodiles are mainly found in most parts of the United States and other parts of the world, while alligators are only found in the southern part of the United States.  Whenever you are in the US, there is a high likelihood of seeing an alligator since they are high in number and are widespread, while the crocodiles are only restricted to one area.

The crocodiles prefer living in wetlands along the lakes and rivers. They may sometimes prefer to get into the fast-moving streams, rivers, and channels since they have the ability to live in salty water. The alligators prefer living closer to the shore, and they are mainly found in swampy areas, lakes, and low areas of the rivers. They are not able to live in saline water.

 The main reason why alligators are widespread in the United States is because of the temperatures; crocodiles need a higher temperature despite the fact that they are all cold-blooded. The crocodiles can be found loving in temperatures of 85 to 93 degrees F.  while the alligators can also survive at 79 degrees F.  The alligators are generally resistant to low temperatures, and they can be able to survive in areas the crocodile will not.

 Crocodiles can able to survive in salty water because they have a unique gland in their tongue, and it helps in excreting the excess salt from their bodies, and this explains why they are able to survive for long at sea. This can be for days or even weeks.  The alligators, on the other hand, have a gland, but they are not as effective as those of the crocodiles, and that is why they choose to live in freshwater bodies. They can sometimes be found in waters that are a mixture of fresh and salty water.

3. Crocodiles are older than Alligators

Crocodiles are among the most ancient animals, and they can be traced from around 70 million years ago. However, their origin goes farther than that. The first species of the crocodile is considered to be sorcosuchus. These animals appareled in a fossil that was about 40 feet long and that was about 110 million years ago.

 The alligators can be traced to the late cretaceous period, although their ancestors are not as old as the crocodiles. Even by use of the fossils, the crocodile is the oldest, and the alligators are the most recent.

4. AggressION

The larger crocodiles, such as the Nile and saltie, are popular at attacking human’s more so when they are hungry.  They are opportunist that will attack anything that moves without selecting.  That is very many incidences of crocodile attacks on humans across the wild.  However, the American crocodiles are shy compared to other species, and they are not likely to attack humans unless they are provoked.

From the statistics about the attacks by these animals, the alligators have less than 6 percent.  They are more afraid than you are afraid of them. The only time they can attack is when they are provoked or when they are protecting the eggs and young ones.

5. Alligators have tiny black spots

To help in regulating the water pressure whenever these animals are swimming, they have dome pressor receptors on their skin. They also help them in detecting ripples in the water. For the alligators, their dome water pressures are visible from the outside as the small black spots near their jaws.

The crocodiles are translucent and scattered all over their body, and this explains why they are better swimmers in open water compare to the alligators.

6. crocodiles have a powerful bite

The crocodile teeth ate designed for tearing, and this is why they are sharp and pointed. The average bite strength is strong, and it is about 37900 psi. For the alligators, they have jaws that are meant for crushing the prey instead of tearing.  For this reason, the teeth of an alligator are cone-shaped instead of being sharp-pointed. They have a less bite strength of 25oo psi.

7. crocodiles are bigger than the Alligators

Generally, the alligators are smaller than the crocodiles In size. The largest species of crocodiles in the saltwater and can reach up to 23 feet. The maximum length of an American crocodile is 20 feet, but, in most cases, they usually eat between 15 to 17 feet.  The average weight of these crocodiles is between 800 to 1000 pounds.  The crocodiles are bigger than the American alligators.

The male alligators have an average length of between 12 to 13 feet and can weigh up to 1000 pounds, while the females go between 8 to 10 feet in length and a weight of 500 to 700 pounds. The crocodiles are larger than the alligators by a length of between 4 to 6 feet, and t6his cannot be easily noted by looking at it from a distance. This explains why size is one of the hardest features to use when distinguishing a crocodile from an alligator.

8. color differences

This is one of the simplest methods of differentiating a crocodile from an alligator. Mostly the crocodiles come in shades of green, gray, brown, or black. They also have a mottled or speckled pattern that aids them in blending in with the algae and substrate. The American crocodiles are slate grey with a white to yellow underside. The coloration of dark and light colors is called countershading and helps them into the water whenever they are hunting.

For instance, the saltwater crocodile is a perfect example of a green crocodile, and it has green scales that are critical in helping them blend with the algae, while the Nile crocodile has deep green and brown speckles that match with the Nile River substrate.

On the other hand, the alligators come with a shiny dark green that looks almost black in some lights. This animal is darker than the crocodile. Their colors depend on the habitat, just like in the case of crocodiles. The crocodiles are greener than the alligators since they live in open water areas that contain more algae.

9. Bottom Teeth

The alligators have lower jaws that are slightly smaller than their upper jaws, and this means that their lower teeth cannot be seen whenever the mouth is closed.  The down-pointing teeth of the upper jaw of an alligator can only be seen when the mouth is closed.

The crocodiles look like they have more teeth whenever their mouths are closed since their upper and lower jaws are roughly and the same size. Both the lower and upper teeth interlock whenever they shut their mouths, and this gives an appearance of a ragged smile. To be specific, every fourth tooth on each side of a crocodile’s lower jaw is seen sticking over the upper lip.

10. Swimming and Running speed

Both the crocodile and the alligator can move at speed on land but only for a short distance. They can sprint, but this only happens when they are under threat but cannot do for long.  The maximum speed at which a crocodile can reach is about 14 km per hour, while the alligator can move at a speed of up to 18 km per hour.

These animals are fast and agile whenever they are swimming in the water, and they use the long, strong tail for their advantage.  They use it to propel the body forward. Whenever the crocodiles are swimming in the water, they can reach a speed of up to 15 km per hour, while the alligators can move with an average speed of 32 km per hour.

11. strength

The crocodile is the strongest among the two, and in the case of face combat, it is obvious it can win easily.  The alligator is fast, but there are reasons why the crocodile would win;

  • The crocodile bites are lethal due to their size.
  • Generally, the crocodiles are more aggressive compared to the alligators.
  • The crocodile are heavier and bigger compared to the alligators.

The alligators are very shy and would never attack someone unless when they are under threat and they are defending themselves, but a crocodile can easily attack a human without even getting provoked.

12. Behavior

It is believed that the human gets cranky in their old days. This applies to the reptiles too.  The alligator lives up to an age of between 30 to 50 years, while the crocodiles live for 70 to 100 years.  The crocodile is crankier. The main reason why the crocodile is slower on land and water is due to their large size.

Both of these reptiles belong to the order Crocodilian, which includes the caimans and gharials. These animals belong to the same order but not the same family. The crocodile belongs to the family Crocodylidae, and it has 13 different species that are mainly found in the Us, Africa, and other parts of the world.

The alligators are from the family Alligatoridae, and it has two species of the alligators and five species of caimans.

13. Diet

The crocodiles and alligators are both carnivores that have a slow metabolism rate. They swallow their prey because they cannot be able to chew their food. The alligators eat everything from the bird, crustaceans, fish, reptiles, and other small mammals. These two animals are called the perfect predators since they are on top of the food chain and are important in maintaining habitats biodiversity.

However, the crocodiles and the alligators are not immune from being hunted by their animals such as the lion, cheetah, leopards. These big cats are known for hunting and killing crocodiles for food whenever they are hungry.

14. Dangers to humans

Although the alligators are dangerous animals, they are better off when compared to the crocodiles/ Whenever hums being approached by an alligator, they shy off and escape to the nearest water unless they are provoked or ate defending the young ones. The crocodiles are very aggressive compared to alligators, and this makes them more dangerous. The Australian crocodiles are known to be the most dangerous in the world. The American alligator is the timidness among all the crocodiles that can rarely attack human beings.

15. Socializing and Playing

Among the reptiles, the crocodiles are considered the most social among all. They are perceived as the most solitary animals and will join forces for hunting for and raising their young ones.  They are also famous for forming relationships with one another.

The crocodiles are famous for forming a social hierarchy based on size and height where the largest one wins, and this is used to determine who gets the best spot whenever they are basking to regulate the temperature of the body, and the winner also gets the priority during the feeding. The crocodiles are also known to be very prayerful with other animals and even human beings, especially those in captivity.

The alligators are less social, although they also spend most of their time together and swimmings and are also known for digging holes in the mud when the weather gets hot, and they use them for protection from these extreme temperatures.

16. Mating

Whenever they are not competing for food, the alligators start mating in the late spring and continue unto the summer. The crocodiles will not start mating until the summer has reached; they both can lay dozens of eggs at a go, with an average of 20 to 50 eggs in every batch.

Commonly asked Questions

Do crocodiles eat alligators?

The adult crocodiles eat other young crocodiles and the alligators too. However, it is very unlikely for a mature crocodile to hunt a big alligator.

Can alligators live with crocodiles?

They are mainly not found in the same area. For instance, in the United States, crocodiles will only be seen in the southern part together with the alligator’s sine they can survive in any part. But for the rest f the country you can only find the alligators. Alligators can mostly be found in the swamps and marshes along the banks of rivers and lakes, while the crocodiles prefer in the open water, fast-moving streams, river, and the channel where the river meets the sea.

Conclusion

By now, you should be able to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator gave the factors above. It is also worth noting that these two reptiles belong to different species.  They are differentiated in color, weight, and size, although some of the factors may be difficult to use to define them, for instance, the color.

The alligators are the most common more son in the United States, and they are friendly to humans unless they are not well fed or are disturbed. Crocodiles are very dangerous, and there should be a lot of caution whenever you are dealing with one.

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