Credit: Marco Schmidt, CC BY-SA 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Wild 45 years
Captive 45 years
For much of history the West African crocodile has been known to modern science as a subpopulation of the Nile crocodile. Recent genetic work including testing of Egyptian mummies has seen them elevated to species level.
Many cultures from the Ancient Egyptians through to the modern day revere the crocodile as sacred giving rise to their common name of the sacred crocodile.
Threats to this species are still being studied but they are known from the skin trade.
Read on to learn more about these remarkable reptiles.
What does the west African crocodile look like?
West African crocodiles are covered by hard, plate-like scales across their back which are colored olive or brown with dark bands present on the back. A defining feature is the dark band across the shoulder and down the flank.
These crocodiles tend to be smaller than the Nile crocodiles from which they were separated and have a narrower snout.
Their eyes, ears and nostrils sit on top of the head. This allows them to rest with their body mostly submerged in the water but means they can still see and hear what is going on around them.
At the end of the body is long, muscular tail to help push them through the water.
An average West African crocodile will reach a length of up to 4m (13ft) and weights of up to 748kg (1,650lbs)
What does the west African crocodile eat?
West African crocodiles are carnivores. Their diet includes a range of mammals, birds, reptiles and fish.
Credit: Hugh Lunnon from Brighton, UK, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Where can you find the west African crocodile?
Africa is the native home of the West African crocodile. Here they are found in the following countries – Mauritania, Benin, Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Senegal, Mali, Guinea, Gambia, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Togo.
Parts of their range overlap with that of the Nile crocodile.
What kind of environment does the west African crocodile live in?
These crocodiles are primarily found in wetlands and forested areas. Here they will live among water courses such as lagoons and river basins. They have shown an ability to survive in brackish water.
Compared to the Nile crocodile which can be seen in large rivers due to their aggressive nature this shyer crocodile species is typically found in attached estuaries.
A small population is found in isolated areas of the Sahara desert. They will seek shelter in caves during the dry season. During this time they may undertake a period of inactivity.
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How does the west African crocodile produce its young?
Females lay up to 60 eggs which hatch after 100 days of incubation.
What does the west African crocodile do with its day?
These animals are considered nocturnal.
West African crocodiles are considered solitary outside of the breeding season. When they do gather a group of crocodiles may be called a bask, raft or float.
These animals are fast swimmers and can reach speeds of up to 32km/h (20mph).
As they do not have sweat glands they will sit with their mouth open as a way to release excess heat.
Credit: Roel van der krabben, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Predators and Threats
What is impacting the survival of the west African crocodile?
West African crocodiles are considered the apex predator in their environment and as such face no natural predators as adults outside of humans.
As this species is only recently elevated to species status studies on their conservation status and related threats are still ongoing.
Trade in crocodile skins was common across Africa in the past with the Nile crocodile being targeted and it is likely that this species is still hunted to supply this trade.
The West African crocodile was previously considered to be a population of the Nile crocodile. Molecular analysis revealed that they should be listed as their own species.
They were first proposed to be their own species in the 1800s based on crocodile mummies from Egyptian temples.
These crocodiles are considered sacred in a number of countries. Some cultures view them as essential to the presence of water. They were also viewed as a sacred icon by the Ancient Egyptians.
West African crocodiles are also known as the sacred crocodile or desert crocodile.
Credit: mcamcamca, CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons
Vliet, K. and Lynch, W., 2020. Alligators. 1st ed. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, pp.156,158.
The Reptile Database. 2021. Crocodylus suchus. [online] Available at: <https://reptile-database.reptarium.cz/species?genus=Crocodylus&species=suchus> [Accessed 16 October 2021].
Man, C., 2021. The West African Crocodile. [online] Critter Science. Available at: <https://critter.science/the-west-african-crocodile/> [Accessed 16 October 2021].
iNaturalist United Kingdom. 2021. West African Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus). [online] Available at: <https://uk.inaturalist.org/taxa/341973-Crocodylus-suchus> [Accessed 16 October 2021].