Key Facts about American Crocodiles
American crocodiles live mainly in the southeast USA (the southern tip of Florida), southern Mexico and along the South American coast as far south as Peru and Venezuela.
They can also be found in the Caribbean islands, including Cuba, Jamaica, Grand Cayman, and Hispaniola.
Their habitat is usually quiet, warm waters on or near the coast, which can be freshwater, salt water, or brackish water (a mix of salt and fresh).
Other habitats include rivers and estuaries, mangrove swamps and coastal lagoons.
Freshwater or Salty?
One of the most interesting facts about American crocodiles is that they have special glands in their tongues which allow them to excrete excess salt water, enabling them to live in salty water.
This means that they can swim in the sea for long periods, unlike alligators, which would drown after a while. It is this ability to swim in salty water that has allowed crocodiles to spread out across the Caribbean islands, while alligators remain on the mainland.
Did You Know?
There are somewhere between around 500 and 1,200 American Crocodiles living in Florida.
They were once threatened with extinction by mass hunting for their hides, but now are challenged more from loss of habitat, illegal hunting, and roadkill.
In 2007, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service downgraded the status of the American crocodile from an endangered species to "threatened". They are still protected from illegal harassing, poaching or killing under the Endangered Species Act.
Crocodiles in Florida
There are more than 1,000 crocodiles living in Florida. They live mainly in the Everglades National Park, Biscayne Bay, Florida Bay, and in the Florida Keys, south of Miami.
There are also a large amount of crocodiles inhabiting the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station at Homestead.
During Summer, when the weather is warmer, individual crocodiles will sometimes swim north up the coast and in 2008, one was caught in South Carolina.
Crocs and Alligators
Another interesting fact concerning American crocodiles is that there is only one place in the world where you will find them living alongside alligators, and that is Florida in the United States.
There are a number of different ways to tell alligators and crocodiles apart. One way is to look at the shape of the snout - crocodiles have narrow, V-shaped snouts and alligators having broader, rounded, more U-shaped ones. When their mouths are closed, crocodiles have lower teeth that can still be seen, but no lower teeth can be seen with the alligator.
American crocodiles are more sensitive to cold than alligators, which is why they don’t live as far north as alligators. Crocodiles also tend to be more aggressive than alligators.
Did You Know?
Crocodiles have a powerful bite when shutting their jaws but have weak strength when it comes to opening them up. Their mouths can be held shut with a household rubber band.
American crocodiles breed in January and February with their eggs taking 2-3 months to incubate.
The female builds a nest in April or May by piling a dirt mound near the edge of the water.
She lays between 35 and 50 eggs and aggressively defends them from predators. The eggs hatch in July or August. The mother will help her young get to water, but unlike the alligator mother, she does not look after her young.
The natural lifespan for an American crocodile is 60 to 70 years.
Did You Know?
Like alligators, crocodiles are ectothermic - this means that they depend upon on external sources of heat to regulate their body temperature.
They typically do this by basking in the sun, or swimming in warmer or cooler water.
Fish make up the main part of this reptile’s diet.
However, they will eat virtually any creature that comes to the water’s edge, including birds, frogs, crabs, turtles, mammals, snails, insects, and sometimes carrion.
Large adult crocodiles have been known to attack cattle.
Did You Know?
American crocodiles are generally very shy creatures who don't like a fight, so attacks on humans are extremely rare.
You are more likely to be attacked by an alligator in Florida, although they too will also tend to flee when they encounter people.
Are They Dangerous?
Compared to some of the other more aggressive types of crocodile, such as those in Africa and Australia, the American species is relatively safe.
They are generally more dangerous than alligators, however, and despite there being no records of any attacks in the USA, there have been reports of attacks in Guatemala, Mexico, and Costa Rico.
Children can be especially vulnerable to attack, as the crocodile is capable of mistaking them for prey.
Are They Endangered?
The American crocodile was hunted extensively in the 20th Century for its hide, but is now widely protected and there are signs that they are gradually making a comeback.
Other, just as serious threats to populations exist today, however, including rising sea levels caused by climate change, loss of habitation due to human development, roadkill and illegal hunting.
In the USA, American crocodiles are covered under the federal Endangered Species Act, which labels the Floridian crocodiles as being endangered.
© 2014 Paul Goodman