The Orinoco crocodile is covered with tough, scaly skin. Resting under these are the bony plates known as osteoderms. There are three main color varieties, these are grayish-green with black patches, light tan with a number of dark areas and a uniform dark grey color.
Their snout is long and narrow. At the end it slopes up to a point. The nostrils sit at the end of this and with the eyes on top of their head as well they can rest almost completely submerged while still able to see and breathe. The snout contains 68 teeth.
Either side of the body are a pair of short legs. At the end of the body is a long, powerful tail to help push them through the water. The eyes are colored green.
In the past unconfirmed reports exist of this species reaching lengths up to 7m (22ft) long while these days it is now rare for them to exceed 5m (16ft) long. Males are typically larger than females. They will weigh up to 380kg (840lbs) while the females only weigh around 200kg (440lbs).
This size places them among the largest of the world’s 23 crocodilian species.
The Orinoco crocodile is a carnivore. Their diet is primarily made up of fish and invertebrates though large individuals may also eat vertebrates such as the capybara and birds which come to drink at the edge of the water.
Juvenile animals will eat crabs, insects and fish.
They may eat as infrequently as once per week and remain healthy.
5m (16ft) long
Orinoco crocodiles can, as their name suggests, be found in the Orinoco river basin in South America. The countries they range across include Colombia and Venezuela.
They make their home in rivers and streams which may be located in forests, savannas and wetlands.
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Nesting takes place during the dry season from January to February.
Up to 70 eggs are laid in a nest. This nest is a hole which is excavated by the female in a sandbar or river bank. These eggs will take around 3 months to hatch.
Eggs face predation from vultures and lizards despite the mother providing some protection for the nest.
The gender of the hatchlings is dependent on temperature. As the eggs are buried at different temperatures it is possible for both genders to hatch in one nest.
Once they are ready to hatch they can free themselves from their eggs. They may survive for the first few days of their life off of the remaining egg yolk.
Sexual maturity is tied to length and is typically achieved at 1.8m (6ft) long.
During the dry season they may dig a burrow in the riverbank in which it can rest.
They communicate by bellowing with males having a lower pitch than females. Tail thrashing and head slapping also help with communication.
Predators and Threats
Their large size and thick skin mean they have few natural predators. Humans previously had a large effect on the population of crocodiles through over harvesting mostly for their skin. This has now mostly ceased though some small amounts are hunted for food and due to a fear of crocodiles.
Habitat change, fragmentation and pollution also affect their population.
Their scientific name ‘intermedius‘ references the shape of their snout. This is midway between the V-shaped snout of most crocodiles and the parallel sided snout of a gharial.
This scientific name was given to them by Alexander von Humboldt during his expedition in South America from 1799 to 1804.
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By Fernando Flores – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33121958
By Greg Hume – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25422746
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Sigler, L., 2020. Breeding The Critically Endangered Orinoco Crocodile – Reptiles Magazine. [online] Reptiles Magazine. Available at: <https://www.reptilesmagazine.com/breeding-the-critically-endangered-orinoco-crocodile/> [Accessed 10 November 2020].