We had a welcome visitor yesterday to the area near Field School’s dock—a young American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). In the United States, they’re only found in Puerto Rico and the Southern half of Florida—and they aren’t very common, with an estimated US population of 500-1,200 (up from only a few hundred in the 1970s).
If you’re wondering how to tell them apart from South Florida’s more common American Alligators (Alligator mississippiensis), here’s what to look for:
Crocodiles are gray-green in color, while alligators are nearly black, although the color difference between a dark crocodile and a light alligator is not always large. When they are juveniles, crocodiles are light-colored with dark stripes, while alligators are dark colored with yellow stripes.
A pointy snout
Crocodiles have a narrow snout shaped more or less like a “V” while Alligators have broader snouts that look more like a “U”.
While Alligators can spend some time in salt water, they really prefer water that is fresh or brackish. Saltwater crocs are rare reptiles in their ability to survive and thrive in high salinity over long periods. So if you see an alligator/crocodile-looking-thing hanging out in the ocean, and you aren’t near a source of fresh water, odds are pretty decent it’s a crocodile.
Visible lower teeth
The shape of their respective jaws means that crocodiles show some upper and lower teeth even when their jaws are fully closed. For Alligators, only some upper teeth are visible when the mouth is closed.
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