American Crocodiles: Crocodylus acutus
It can be difficult for inexperienced people to tell the difference between an American crocodile and the other native crocodilian, the more common American alligator. The following are some of the major differences between the two:
|Grayish green color
||Black in color
|Fourth tooth on lower jaw exposed when mouth is closed
||Only upper teeth exposed when mouth is closed
|Narrow tapered snout
||Broad rounded snout
|Young are light with dark stripes
||Young are dark with yellow stripes
The common or spectacled caiman (Caiman crocodilus) looks more like the American crocodile than the American alligator. Its color is similar to the crocodile's but with a shorter more rounded snout. Caiman are found primarily in freshwater canals and lakes and rarely exceed 5 feet in length.
Top: American alligator, Middle: American crocodile, Bottom: common caiman
American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) are a shy and reclusive species. They live in coastal areas throughout the Caribbean, and occur at the northern end of their range in south Florida. They live in brackish or saltwater areas, and can be found in ponds, coves, and creeks in mangrove swamps. They are occasionally being encountered inland in freshwater areas of the SE Florida coast as a result of the extensive canal system.
Like alligators, crocodiles are ectothermic, meaning they rely on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature. Crocodiles control their body temperature by basking in the sun, or moving to areas with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures.
A basking crocodile may be surprised by an approaching person and quickly (and noisily) enter the water. This behavior might startle the person, but it should not be misunderstood. Crocodiles would normally enter the water quietly; splashing away indicates that the crocodile is frightened.
Crocodiles can also be seen sunning with their mouths open, or "gaping." This behavior is also related to regulating their body temperature, and does not mean that the crocodile is acting aggressively toward people.
Image Credit: Peter Moler