American crocodiles are colored grayish-green on their back and the top of the tail. Their underside is colored yellow or white. Some darker cross bands can be seen on the back and tail. Their skin features less hard, armor like scales when compared to other crocodiles.
They can be distinguished from the American alligator with which they share part of their range as their head is triangular shaped with a pointed snout whereas the alligator has a rounded U-shaped snout. Their fourth tooth is exposed when the mouth is closed while an alligators will fit inside the mouth.
Their long and strong tail is used to push them through the water when swimming. They have a clear eyelid known as the nictitating membrane which comes down over the eye when they are swimming. On their tongue they have a salt gland which allows them to excrete excess salt from their body.
Their eyes and nostrils sit on top of their head and as such these can sit out the water while the rest of their body remains safely submerged.
Males are larger than females. An average male will measure 4.3m (14ft) though some extraordinarily large individuals measure up to 6.1m (20ft). Females average 2.4-3.7m (8-12ft). An average weight for the American crocodile is 400-500 kg (882-1102 lbs). though large individuals may weigh as much as 907kg (2,000lbs).
The American crocodile is a carnivore. Most of their diet is fish though this is supplemented with small mammals, turtles, crustaceans, birds and aquatic invertebrates. On occasion they have been seen to eat carrion. Prey items are swallowed whole.
To help with digestion the American crocodile will ingest stones.
Due to their metabolism they are able to survive long periods without food.
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American crocodiles can be found across North, Central and South America. Here they can be found throughout the following countries: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, United States of America and Venezuela.
In the United States of America their range is limited to a small population in Florida.
They make their home in brackish, fresh or salt water and they can be found in ponds, coves, rivers, lakes, creeks and mangrove swamps. With the expansion of human habitations they have moved in to reservoirs.
American crocodiles form a burrow that can be used if water levels are low. They can also be used during cold weather and to hide. Its entrance is typically underwater or slightly submerged.
Courting starts in January and continues until the breeding season in April and May. Males will develop a territory and defend their rights to mate with the females in this area aggressively. These males roar to attract females and the female will reply with her own roar.
Following a successful mating the female will build a nest where she can deposit 30-60 eggs. This nest is formed from soil and placed above the highest tide to ensure it does not flood.
Eggs hatch after a 85 day incubation. During the incubation the female protects the nest though American crocodile females are one of the most timid crocodiles and are easily frightened away from their nest. She may leave the eggs in the early stages of incubation though returns close to the hatching time.
Younger crocodiles are a lighter tan color when compared to adults.
The gender of the hatchling is dependent on the temperature at which they incubate. At lower temperatures the hatchlings will mostly be females and at high temperatures they are mostly males.
Females dig open the nest when the young hatch and she may carry them down to the water. Within the first few days after hatching she will leave them alone.
For the first two weeks of life they will survive on leftover yolk. They then transition to mostly eating insects.
Hatchlings face a range of predators including raccoons, coatis, birds and crabs. Adults will also cannibalize the young. Infant mortality is high and as few as 1 in 4 will live to be an adult.
Sexual maturity is tied to length. It is reached between 1.8 and 2.4m (5.9-7.9ft) long. This length is typically reached between 8 and 10 years old.
American crocodiles are solitary and spend their time alone. They become quite aggressive if another crocodile enters their territory.
During the day crocodiles can be seen out of the water basking in the sun. While they do this they will ‘gape’ which is where they sit with the mouth open. This helps them to regulate their own body temperature.
They can make a range of roars to communicate. Another method of communication is slapping the water with their head and tail.
Predators and Threats
As an adult the American crocodile represents the apex predator in their environment and has no natural predators.
Humans hunted the American crocodile in large numbers through until their protection in the 1970s. Some illegal hunting still takes place.
Their population also suffers as a result of habitat destruction, vehicle strike and overfishing leading to a loss of their food.
The brain and heart of a crocodile is more advanced than those of any other reptile.
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Tomás Castelazo / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)
Ponce-Campos, P., Thorbjarnarson, J. & Velasco, A. (IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group). 2012. Crocodylus acutus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012: e.T5659A3043244. https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2012.RLTS.T5659A3043244.en. Downloaded on 19 July 2020.
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National Geographic. 2020. American Crocodile. [online] Available at: <https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/reptiles/a/american-crocodile/> [Accessed 20 July 2020].
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