Interview with Alligator – Differences between Alligators and Crocodiles
Interview with Alligator – Differences between Alligators and Crocodiles
Crocodilians – that’s the family name of both alligators and crocodiles. Many folks find it difficult to distinguish between an alligator and a crocodile, so I’m writing the facts as a public service to assist those who may be confused. About gators and crocs, that is.
Highway I-75 across the Everglades
Living in Florida not far from the Everglades, it was not difficult to find a talkative American alligator.
Oh, yes, they talk to me! My supernatural ability to talk with deceased celebrities works with weird animals and living reptiles as well.
I drove down the highway (I-75) named Alligator Alley that runs between Ft. Lauderdale on the east coast to Naples on the west coast.
The name is appropriate because it traverses the Everglades National Park and alligators are numerous and visible on both sides of the roadway.
About twenty miles down the road there is a rest stop where boat owners can use the boat ramp.
Tourists can park here, too, to take photos of always available alligators loitering for photo ops and handouts from generous folks who often feed them scraps – despite the sign forbidding same.
I can undersrtand the need for the 'Do Not Feed Alligators' sign.
But why would anyone in their right mind want to attempt to molest them?
I approached a large alligator lying in the sun resting its gigantic head on the ramp, and was surprised when it began the conversation.
Alligator – Are you drbj? I heard through the mangrove vine you were looking for someone like me to interview.
me – the mangrove vine?
Alligator – you know, like the grapevine but you can’t grow grapes here – much too hot and humid – just mangrove swamps. What’s on your mind?
Interview with Alligator
me – Nice to meet you Mr. Alligator. I’m trying to learn more about alligators and crocodiles from the source. Do you have some time to talk?
Alligator – Time? You must be kidding. What else do I have to do out here in the swamp all day? And you can call me Al.
BTW, how did you know I was a guy gator?
me – I took a wild guess, Al, based on the tee shirt you are wearing: “Ask to see my Abs!”
Al – Cool, huh? It was a gift from the last human I encountered (laughs crazily). He thought I would offer him professional courtesy cause he was a ‘gator’ – a University of Florida grad.
He didn’t realize we gators are equal opportunity eaters – everyone is a potential meal.
Whoa, just joking. You don’t have to retreat. I would never eat an interviewer. Bad Karma!
Basic difference between gator and croc
me – Speaking of meals, what is your favorite food?
Al – Rats!
me – I beg your pardon!
Al – That’s our favorite food – rats. You know large rodents. Without us, the rat population would be out of control. We also eat snakes, birds, turtles (not easy), fish and small mammals. As we grow larger, we eat larger food – like deer, or perhaps a lost hog, or even a wandering cow or two.
Crocodiles are larger and can ambush monkeys, deer, zebras, even Cape buffalos. They often perform the ‘death roll’ which is rolling the prey over and over in the water while ripping off large chunks for dinner.
me – You are a carnivore then.
Al – Oh, yeah, meat is our favorite food. We ambush our prey by stealth. We swim either underwater or quietly on top of the water until we can strike. Then we use the strength in our massive tails to explode upon our prey, grab it in our jaws and drag it underwater to drown. A large meal can keep us satisfied for up to six months.
me – This may sound strange but I once saw an alligator swallowing a large rock.
Al – Yes, the rocks help us to grind down and digest food we may have consumed. We don’t have rocks in our heads, just rocks in our stomachs – some gator humor there.
me – Do you know you resemble a prehistoric beast?
Al – Must you use that word?
me – Prehistoric?
Al – No, beast. I prefer, creature. Did you know that we have been around almost 200 million years? Dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago but we survived. Our looks have changed very little in all those millions of years. Some scientists think the alligator is closely related to prehistoric birds. So you may be spot on with that ‘prehistoric’ adjective.
Differences between alligators and crocodiles
me – How can I tell an alligator from a crocodile?
Al – The best way to tell us apart is the shape of our snout and the visibility of our teeth.
Alligators have wider, broader heads with more rounded blunt, ‘U-shaped’ snouts. When our jaws are closed, fewer teeth are visible.
Crocodiles have longer, more tapered, narrow, pointy snouts that form a ‘V’ toward the end.
And if you’re brave enough to get close, you can see the lower teeth stick out past its closed jaws.
Especially its fourth tooth which protrudes in the middle. That’s why crocs have that quaint buck-toothed look.
Speaking of teeth, our teeth continue to grow throughout our life. If we lose or break one off, another grows to replace it.
me – What are some other significant differences between alligators and crocodiles?
Al – Let me count the ways:
• Body color. Alligators are darker, nearly black or gray. Crocodiles are usually olive green or brown, but color is very dependent on water quality. Algae-laden waters produce greener skin, while tannic acid from overhanging trees may produce darker skin.
• Scales. Crocodiles have a small dark spot or dimple on each overlapping scale (called a scute) which acts as a sensory pit to detect prey and water pressure changes. You can easily see these spots on crocodile leather goods. Alligators have these sensory organs only around their jaws.
• Family. Both are Crocodilians. Alligators are members of the Alligatoridae family; crocodiles are members of the Crocodylidae family. (Youngsters of both families have difficulty learning to spell their family names).
Betty White makes this film, can you believe it, funny!
me – That last line is not a scientific fact, Al.
Al – Just threw it in to see if you are paying attention. Here are more differences:
• Habitat. Both spend their life in and near bodies of water and lay their eggs on land. Alligators prefer freshwater. Crocodiles can tolerate seawater better due to specialized glands that excrete excess salt. Both can survive, however, in either.
• Feet. Crocodiles have a jagged fringe on their hind legs and feet. Alligators do not. They are both excellent, strong swimmers who tuck their webbed feet under their bodies to reduce water resistance.
• Temperament. Alligators try to flee when approached by humans. They are not known for being aggressive unless nesting or disturbed unexpectedly. But crocodiles tend to attack anything that crosses their path. Males are very territorial and will defend their territory from intruders. Nile crocodiles, in fact, are known for the large number of human fatalities they cause every year.
me – But crocodiles have not always had such a bad reputation. Ancient Egyptians worshiped a god who had the head of a crocodile and the body of a man.
Al – My great, great grandgator told me about that crocodile god; his name was Sobek.
me – Right! These ancient people would keep crocodiles in pools and temples, almost like beloved pets. And they ornamented the crocs with jewels in honor of the god. They believed Sobek to be the god who controlled the waters which were filled with crocodiles, and the Nile River represented their livelihood.
Alligator Facts Al learned from his great, great grandgator
• American alligators are very large reptiles with thick bodies. Males average 14 to 17 feet long and females about 10 feet in length. The largest American alligator – 19 feet 2 inches – was found in Marsh Islands, Louisiana in 1890.
• Scientists believe the American Alligator is intelligent with the ability to adapt to various changes in its environment. They have been observed studying their prey to determine the best time to attack and the best way to take down their prey.
• American Alligators are found –where else? – in the United States. Many states are heavily populated with them. For example, Florida has more than two million of them. Other states with large alligator populations are Georgia, Texas, and Louisiana.
• Wetlands provide them with warm temperatures – they require an average of 80°F to survive – but their habitat has continually been encroached upon by humans. Now they are also found in areas of saltwater when they used to live only in freshwater.
me – Why do I hear alligators making bellowing sounds in the springtime?
Al – That’s because in the spring, alligators resume their interest in mating. Males will be bellowing to attract females. When you hear them roaring they are also warning other males to keep their distance. They spend much of their time protecting their territory from invasion.
• After mating has occurred, the female knows she needs to create a home for her eggs. She creates a nest (like birds do) out of leaves, twigs, mud and whatever she can find.
It has to be roomy enough for 20 to 50 eggs, and above the water line. The walls need to be thick to provide warmth. She will carefully guard her eggs to keep predators away.
Because of the warmer temperature, it takes only about 65 days for the young to be hatched. For other species of alligators, the range is 80 to 90 days.
Mama Alligator will assist her babies to get into the water, and care for them for about five months. But she will also lose the majority of her young because of various predators.
World's Biggest Croodiles
me – Who are . . . ?
Al – Birds, fish and turtles are the biggest enemies of young alligators. Other alligators may come to feed on them, too, if food is in short supply.
As they grow larger, their biggest problem is humans.
In many areas people are terrified of alligators and want them killed so that they don’t have to share their waterfront property.
• Did you know that annual hunting expeditions take place? Hunters from all over the United States as well as other countries come to try their luck at killing an alligator.
Their goal – the pride they get from successfully killing such a large and fearsome creature, and the skin they obtain that can be used to create expensive leather products – wallets, belts, handbags, shoes and boots.
More Crocodilian Facts Alex learned from his aPad
me – Don’t you mean iPad?
Al – No, it’s an aPad – for animals.
• The most powerful bite of any animal comes from the crocodile.
It is well known for eating just about anything it can sink its teeth into – fish, birds, crustaceans, mammals, and even other reptiles.
me – Wait a minute! You said, ‘birds’. Isn‘t it a fact that crocodiles will not eat a specific bird known as the Egyptian Plover?
Al – That’s true. Crocodiles will not harm the Egyptian Plover. They enjoy a symbiotic relationship.
The plover will enter the mouth of the crocodile and consume the various forms of parasites that cling to its teeth and mouth. The bird gets breakfast and the crocodile has its teeth cleaned.
• Crocodilians have see-through eyelids that protect their eyes when they are underwater. A slit-like vertical pupil lets in more light and allows them to hunt more effectively at night.
Flaps cover their ears and muscles close their nostrils when they are underwater. Their excellent sense of smell allows them to find prey in murky water.
• Their eyes and nostrils are located high on their head and snout so they can keep their body submerged yet still breathe and view their surroundings.
A broad, heavily muscled tail assists them in swimming smoothly and quickly.
• The jaws of a crocodilian are extremely powerful but only on the downward bite. It gives that infamous ‘snap’ like a spring-loaded hinge.
But their jaws are much weaker when moving upward which gives human alligator and crocodile wrestlers a big advantage.
• Although their legs are short they can move very fast on dry land. A speedy crocodile has been recorded on land moving at 11 miles per hour.
I visited this amazing Crocodile Farm in Thailand.
There are 23 different species of crocodilians:
Alligators – 8 species – American Alligator (southeastern U.S.) • Chinese Alligator (eastern China) • Spectacled Caiman (Central and South America) • Broad-Snouted Caiman • Jacare Caiman • Black Caiman • Cuvier's Dwarf Caiman • Schneider's Dwarf Caiman (South America)
Crocodiles – 14 species - American Crocodile (North, Central and South America) • Slender-Snouted Crocodile • African Dwarf Crocodile (Africa) • Orinoco Crocodile (South America) • Australian Freshwater Crocodile (Australia) • Philippine Crocodile (Philippines) • Morelet’s Crocodile (Central America) • Nile Crocodile (Africa, Madagascar) • New Guinea Crocodile (Papua, New Guinea) • Common Mugger (Indian subcontinent) • Cuban Crocodile (Cuba) • Estuarine Crocodile • Siamese Crocodile • False Gharial (southeast Asia)
Gavialidae – Indian Gharial (Indian subcontinent)
me – How long do crocodilians live?
Al – On average, up to 50 years of age. But some have lived to be more than 75. Here are a few more unusual facts about them:
• Most people don’t know that crocodilians do have tongues. Their body structure prevents them from sticking it out as humans and most other animals do.
• The sex of the offspring is determined by the temperature rather than by genetic chromosomes.
• Alligators can bellow and roar, but most of the time crocodiles are very quiet although they can make some types of sounds when they are in distress.
• They release heat (sweat) through their mouths like pigs since they don’t have any sweat glands.
• In some countries, crocodile meat is considered to be a delicacy.
• Crocodile oil can be used as a safe, natural way to heal chapped or dry skin.
• The largest crocodile ever caught was this 21-foot long saltwater crocodile in the Philippines, September 4, 2012. It weighed more than one ton (2,000 pounds).
21-foot long Crocodile
Al – I have to leave now – gotta catch some rays while the sun is still high. I leave you with my favorite alligator quote: "Never insult an alligator until after you have crossed the river." – Cordell Hull
me – Thanks for the interview, Al. See you later . . .
Al (interrupting) – Please ... don’t finish that sentence ... it drives me crazy!
Note: This hub was written in response to a question by Myn Is Me who asked: “How does an alligator differ from a crocodile?” Happy to oblige, Myn.
© Copyright BJ Rakow, Ph.D. 2012, 2014. All rights reserved. Author, "Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So"