The Difference Between Alligators and Crocodiles

A young alligator by the water in Florida.  Alligators vastly outnumber crocodiles in the USA.  As well as forming a bigger population, they also inhabit a much wider geographical area, with crocodiles only present the southern tip of the state.
A young alligator by the water in Florida. Alligators vastly outnumber crocodiles in the USA. As well as forming a bigger population, they also inhabit a much wider geographical area, with crocodiles only present the southern tip of the state. | Source

Many people are unaware that there's a difference between alligators and crocodiles and use both terms interchangeably to describe any large water-dwelling lizard with big teeth.

What these people don't realize is that despite some similarities, the two reptiles don't look or behave the same way as each other. They also belong to different biological families.

So what is the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Well, there are essentially five things to look out for when you are seeking to tell them apart.

Once you know the differences, it is actually pretty easy to tell them apart.

1. Location

Alligators live only in the southeasern USA and eastern China, whereas crocodiles can be found right across the world in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, North America, South America and Central America.

If you are in the USA, then you are far more likely to encounter an alligator than a crocodile. Although there is an American crocodile species, they only live in the southernmost tip of Florida, whereas alligators can be found right across Florida and Louisiana, as well as parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Alligators also heavily outnumber crocodiles in the USA. There are over 3 million alligators, but less than 2000 crocodiles. Southern Florida is the only place in the world where you will find crocodiles and alligators living side by side.

An adult crocodile.  Notice that the snout forms a V-shape.  Also some of the teeth on the lower jaw are clearly visible, despite the mouth being closed, thats one way that we know its a crocodile.
An adult crocodile. Notice that the snout forms a V-shape. Also some of the teeth on the lower jaw are clearly visible, despite the mouth being closed, that's one way that we know its a crocodile. | Source
Here's a close up of the crocodile's teeth when its mouth is shut.
Here's a close up of the crocodile's teeth when its mouth is shut. | Source

2. Different Snouts

One of the main differences between alligators and crocodiles is the snout.

The alligator's is broader and shaped like a U, whereas the crocodile’s is longer and narrower and more V-shaped. The alligator bite is more powerful, because it is specialized for breaking open things like turtle shells. The crocodile’s snout is more suited to hunting general prey, including fish, reptiles and mammals.

The snouts are easy to tell apart when closed as the alligator has none of its bottom teeth visible, whereas the crocodile’s lower fourth tooth can always be seen.

Note the pointed, v-shaped nature of this crocodile's snout.  It generally tapers from head to tip.  The alligator snout is more rounded and shaped like a U.
Note the pointed, v-shaped nature of this crocodile's snout. It generally tapers from head to tip. The alligator snout is more rounded and shaped like a U. | Source
The alligator's snout is more rounded, like a long U, whereas the alligator's is more pointed and v-shaped.  The differences in shape is thought to have evolved thanks to dietary differences, with alligators needing to crack open turtle shells.
The alligator's snout is more rounded, like a long U, whereas the alligator's is more pointed and v-shaped. The differences in shape is thought to have evolved thanks to dietary differences, with alligators needing to crack open turtle shells. | Source

3. Size and Aggression

There is a general size difference between alligators and crocodiles. An adult crocodile can grow up to roughly 19 feet long, whereas for alligators the length is around 14 feet.

Crocodiles can also move much faster on land than alligators.

Behaviorally, Alligators, while definitely dangerous, are relatively timid compared to crocodiles, and will generally try to escape if approached by humans, usually heading for the nearest water and swimming away.

The only times that alligators will usually attack humans is if they are unexpectedly disturbed, provoked, or they are defending their young.

Crocodiles, on the other hand, are much more bad-tempered and far more likely to attack, even if they are unprovoked

Australian saltwater crocodiles, followed by the Nile crocodiles are generally being seen by experts as the most dangerous types that you will find in the world. American crocodiles, on the other hand, are one of the more timid types that you will find and they rarely attack humans. In the USA, you are more likely to be attacked by an alligator, although attacks by either are very rare.

Did you know?

Fatalities from alligator attacks in the US are actually very rare.

The average annual fatality rate for death by alligator in the US is actually only 0.3. That means on average, one person dies every three years.

That's actually a very small figure when you consider how many people and alligators there are in the south eastern area of the USA.

The truth is that you are more likely to be killed by domestic dogs, bee or wasp stings, spider bite, rattlesnake, mountain lion, or shark.

4. Freshwater and Salt Water

Crocodiles have special glands in their tongues which excrete excess salt from their bodies. This means that they are capable of spending days, or even weeks at sea.

Alligators have these glands as well but they don’t work so well, so they usually stick to freshwater habitats, although they can sometimes be found in brackish water (a mixture of salt and freshwater).

This difference between alligators and crocodiles explains why crocodiles have managed to spread across the islands of the Caribbean and alligators haven't.

An alligator in Florida.  Notice that the hide is a very dark gray color.  The color of a 'gator's hide actually varies according to the water, when there is more algae they are greener, more tannic acid from the overhanging trees makes them darker.
An alligator in Florida. Notice that the hide is a very dark gray color. The color of a 'gator's hide actually varies according to the water, when there is more algae they are greener, more tannic acid from the overhanging trees makes them darker. | Source

5. Color

Crocodile hides tend to be more of a light tan, or olive color, whereas alligators are usually a dark blackish grey.

(The exact shade of an alligator skin depends on the quality of the water that the alligator swims in. Tannic acid from overhanging trees will make them darker, algae will make them greener).

A young alligator basking.  As they get older, their hides gradually lose their stripey pattern and become darker in color, thanks in part to the tannic acid that comes from overhanging trees in places like Florida.
A young alligator basking. As they get older, their hides gradually lose their stripey pattern and become darker in color, thanks in part to the tannic acid that comes from overhanging trees in places like Florida. | Source

© 2011 Paul Goodman

More by this Author


Comments 23 comments

networkandy profile image

networkandy 5 years ago from Connecticut

wither way they both scary animals lol


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA Author

Well, I certainly wouldn't advise cuddling one of them, that's for sure! :-)


shai77 profile image

shai77 5 years ago

You have wonderful and interesting Hubs.

Loved it!!!


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA Author

Thank you for your kind words, Shai.


GPSWorldTraveler profile image

GPSWorldTraveler 5 years ago from Washington State, USA

Amazing creatures, thanks for the clarification... still probably would run like the dickens if I saw one meandering down the road :)


theherbivorehippi profile image

theherbivorehippi 5 years ago from Holly, MI

Well this clears up any confusion! Thanks...such fascinating creatures (both of them)!


Simone Smith profile image

Simone Smith 5 years ago from San Francisco

Heya PaulGoodman67! I just wanted to say that the HP Staff and I loved this post so much, we featured it in a podcast to discuss it and introduce it to more people! You can find the podcast here: http://blog.hubpages.com/2011/04/alligators-vs-cro...

Props on the fantastic Hub!


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA Author

Thank you very much for your kind words and the podcast feature, Simone. I am honored by your interest in my work! :-)


Will Apse 5 years ago

Your second vid comes up as 'private' which is a shame- the first one was great.

I enjoyed the rest of the page, too.


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA Author

Thank you for pointing out the video problem, Will. I have now replaced it! :-)


klarawieck 5 years ago

Great hub! I love watching them in the Everglades, which is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.

Now about the turtles... true those alligators can crush their shells, but they surely like to surf and sunbathe on top of those sleeping logs!


MsQuestion profile image

MsQuestion 5 years ago from New Jersey

Okay! I always wondered what the difference was! If I see either one,though, I'm running away! (Although here in New York..probably NOT going to happen).


PaulGoodman67 profile image

PaulGoodman67 5 years ago from Florida USA Author

Alligators are actually pretty timid and will try to run/swim away if approached. I think it's still best to be wary of them, as they have a bonecrushing bite! :-)


CoryMladen 5 years ago

For me both are charming, well I won't dare to get closer to them :)


bla 5 years ago

it helps


Rikki Lowe 4 years ago

Thanks for the information! You helped me a lot!!! :)


keldrick 4 years ago

crocodilias are cool


Howard 3 years ago

This made my homework way easier


Jackson 3 years ago

thanks people, im doing a report and this was far better then any other website


Rebecca E. profile image

Rebecca E. 3 years ago from Canada

well can't say i didn't learn anything here. All the more reason to avoid an alligator.


Tom Mukasa profile image

Tom Mukasa 3 years ago from Lives in USA

Thanks. I do admire those who came before us and who without technology such as night vision video recorders, nor cameras nor guns were able to observe animals as they grazed, fed and protected their young. Thanks once again for throwing more light on the Alligator and Crocodile. I wonder which of the two would sleep with mouth open without fear of its tongue being a meal for another? These are two animals that terrorize others in the waters!


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 23 months ago from Home Sweet Home

thanks for telling us the differences. Alligators are not so wild as crocs


Laetitea profile image

Laetitea 2 months ago from Estoril / Metz

Here we have a good explanation. In fact, many people confuse crocodiles, alligators and caimans.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.


    Click to Rate This Article
    working