Do you know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
Most people are not sure, but there is a big difference!
The distinction between an alligator and a crocodile may be difficult since they both come from the same phylogenetic order. They’re both big reptiles with lizard-like bodies, durable skin, long tails, stubby legs, elongated noses, and big sharp teeth.
In this blog post, we will discuss the differences between these two animals. We will also look at some of their similarities and differences in terms of habitat, diet, and behavior.
Crocodile vs Alligator Appearance
The easiest way to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator is by looking at their teeth. Alligators have U-shaped snouts, while crocodiles have V-shaped ones. When their mouths are shut, you can see the top teeth of an alligator, but not a crocodile.
Crocodiles may look quite prehistoric, however, they are the most advanced reptile of our time. Unlike other reptiles they have a four-chambered heart, diaphragm and cerebral cortex (a structure within the vertebrate brain with distinct structural and functional properties).
A crocodiles physical traits allow it to be a successful predator. They have a streamlined body that enables them to swim faster. Crocodiles also tuck their feet to their sides while swimming, which helps the crocodile to swim fast, by decreasing the water resistance.
Crocodiles have webbed feet which, although not used to propel the animal through the water, allow it to make fast turns and sudden moves in the water or initiate swimming. Webbed feet are an advantage in shallower water where the crocodiles sometimes move around by walking.
Crocodiles are very fast over short distances, even out of water. Crocodiles have extremely powerful jaws capable of biting down with 3,000 pounds of pressure per square inch and sharp teeth for tearing flesh, however, a crocodile cannot open their mouth if it is being held closed. All large crocodiles also have sharp and powerful claws.
Another difference is that alligators are black or dark olive, while crocodiles can be greenish-gray.
Alligators also tend to be shorter and have a broader snout than crocodiles. When you look at an alligator from the side, its belly slopes up to meet its back, while a crocodile’s belly hangs down low.
Alligators are large, semi-aquatic carnivorous reptiles with four small legs and a very large, long tail. The tail is half the animals total length. Alligators tails help propel them rapidly through the water and is used to make pools of water during the dry seasons called ‘gator holes’.
The tail is also used as a weapon and stores fat that the alligator will use for nourishment during the winter.
Alligators are cold blooded (ectothermic) and like most reptiles they do not make their own body heat. Alligators gain body heat by basking in the sun moving between hot and cool locations.
Crocodiles vs Alligators Size
Adult male American alligators measure 3.4 to 4.8 m (11.2 to 15.7 ft) in length, and can weigh up to 560 kg (1,230 lb), making it the largest member of the family Alligatoridae.
Females are smaller, measuring 2.6 to 3 m (8.5 to 9.8 ft) in length
In 1890, an alligator measuring 19.2 feet (5.85 m) in length was discovered on Marsh Island, Louisiana. It was slain near Vermilion Bay in southern Louisiana. It was said to have weighed around 2000 lbs.
The saltwater crocodile is the largest living reptile and crocodilian known.
Males grow to a length of up to 6 m (20 ft), rarely exceeding 6.3 m (21 ft) or a weight of 1,000–1,300 kg (2,200–2,900 lb). Females are much smaller and rarely surpass 3 m (10 ft)
Where Do Alligators and Crocodiles Live?
Although alligators and crocodiles have different ranges and habitats that only overlap in a tiny region of the United States, each species may be found throughout other regions of the world.
The gator’s habitat extends from Texas to North Carolina and includes the Yangtze River in China.
The crocodile is more widely distributed throughout the world than the alligator, and one reason for their huge range is their ability to tolerate saltwater, which is uncommon among alligators.
- Freshwater habitats like marshes, streams, lakes, swamps, ponds, and even brackish locations are favorite homes for alligators.
- Crocodiles can be found in lagoons, islands, rivers, mangrove swamps, lakes, and rivers.
In Florida, these two types of habitats come together to form an ecotone that draws both reptiles from each habitat and allows them to coexist. American crocodiles can be found in only one location in the United States: Florida.
What do Alligators and Crocodiles eat?
Fish, birds, tortoises, and other animals are all consumed by the alligator and crocodile. They are apex predators that eat only other species as their sole source of nutrition.
The American alligator and American crocodile have a narrow distribution overlap, although they each have many distinct potential prey available to them.
Because the crocodile has a larger range and sometimes lives in and near saltwater, it has more potential prey than the alligator.
Crocodilians are inherently aggressive predators that can successfully attack prey that is larger than themselves.
Crocodiles are ambush hunters, waiting for fish or land animals to come close, then rushing out to attack. As cold-blooded predators, they can survive long periods without food, and rarely need to actively go hunting. Despite their slow appearance, crocodiles are top predators in their environment and various species have been observed attacking and killing sharks.
Crocodiles mostly feed on vertebrates like fish, reptiles, and mammals, sometimes with invertebrates like molluscs and crustaceans, depending on species.
Alligators main prey are smaller animals that they can kill and eat with a single bite. Alligators may kill larger prey by grabbing it and dragging it in the water to drown.
Alligators consume food that cannot be eaten in one bite by allowing it to rot or by biting and then spinning or convulsing wildly until bite-size pieces are torn off. This is referred to as the ‘death roll’. Most of the muscle in an alligators jaw is intended for biting and gripping prey. The muscles for opening their jaws are relatively weak. As a result an adult man can hold an alligators jaw shut with his bare hands.
The Lifespan of an Alligator vs. Crocodile
Alligators and crocodiles that survive to adulthood are likely to stay for a long time. After all, they’re at the top of the food chain, and it’s difficult to kill them in the wild.
Alligators can live anywhere from 30 to 60 years, on average. That’s a long time to spend hunting prey in murky water!
Crocodiles can live up to 70 years, so they are somewhat longer-lived than other crocodilians.
Crocodiles can survive for a long time and reach enormous sizes, making them important predators in a region.
Alligator vs Crocodile Predators
Both alligators and crocodiles are vulnerable to attacks.
When they are young, alligators are extremely susceptible, and the following animals may kill them:
- Birds of Prey
- Adult Alligators
Crocodiles are also hunted while they are still developing, and their predators include:
In both cases, humans are the most harmful predator of crocodilians.
They are hunted for food, out of fear for one’s safety, or as a result of habitat loss.
Human beings represent the greatest danger to both alligators and crocodiles.
The larger species of crocodiles can be very dangerous to humans.
The Saltwater and Nile Crocodiles are the most dangerous, killing hundreds of people each year in parts of South-East Asia and Africa.
Mugger crocodiles and possibly the endangered Black Caiman, are also very dangerous to humans.
American alligators are less aggressive and rarely assault humans without provocation.
History of Crocodilians
Crocodyliformes (the group encompassing crocodilians and other similar but extinct reptiles) evolved during the Triassic Period, about 248 million years ago. Crocodilians (a group which includes alligators, crocodiles, gharials or gavials, caiman) appeared during the Cretaceous period, about 98 million years ago, towards the end of the Mesozoic Era, the Age of Reptiles.
Deinosuchus (meaning ‘terrible crocodile’) was the largest crocodylian, growing up to 50 feet (15 metres) long. It lived during the late Cretaceous period (about 146 to 65 million years ago). This carnivore lived on the shores of the large shallow sea called the Tethys Sea, that covered much of North America. It survived on fish and perhaps some species of dinosaurs.