American Crocodile

American Crocodile

American Crocodile information

The American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, is a large crocodilian living in the Americas. It is one of the biggest members of its genus and the males can exceed 6 metres (20 feet) in length. 

The American crocodile is known under many different names within its native range, including Cocodrilo americano, Crocodile d'Amérique, Caimán de Aguja, Central American alligator, Cocodrilo de Rio, Crocodile à museau pointu, Lagarto Amarillo, Lagarto Real, Llaman Caimán, South American alligator, and American saltwater crocodile.

American Crocodile taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Reptilia
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Crocodylidae
Subfamily:    Crocodylinae
Genus:           Crocodylus
Species:         Crocodylus acutus

American Crocodile conservation status

Crocodylus acutus is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species (2.3). The last assessment was made in 1996.

In 2007, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service declassified the American crocodile as an endangered species, downgrading its status to "threatened". It still remains a protected species under the federal Endangered Species Act.

No one knows exactly how many American crocodiles that exist in the wild. Estimations vary from 1,000 to 2,000 specimens for Central- and South America (including Mexico), while the United States population is estimated to comprise 500-1200 specimens; all native to South Florida.  

The main threats against Crocodylus acutus are hunting, habitat loss, and pollution.  Management programs have been set up where sustainable harvest for the hide market is used to fund the protection of remaining individuals.

American Crocodile range

The American crocodile is the most widespread of the four living species of crocodiles found in the Americas. It inhabits a region that stretches from Florida in the United States down to Venezuela and Peru. It is found along both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Mexico and on many Caribbean island states, such as Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic. It once lived on the Cayman Islands as well but is now extinct.

In Central America, the species inhabits all nations (Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama), but in South America it can only be found in the northernmost states; Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and possibly also Trinidad and Tobago.

American Crocodile habitat

The habitat of the American crocodile consists largely of coastal areas and it is commonly found in mangrove swamps, tidal estuaries, coastal lagoons, and at river mouths. It can live in both freshwater, brackish water and saltwater and will even survive at sea. (This is how it has managed to colonize so many Caribbean islands.) It does not require flowing waters like rivers and streams; this crocodile will do just as well in lakes and reservoirs.

American Crocodile size and appearance

 Just like the other members of its genus, the American crocodile has four short splayed legs, an elongated snout, and a long and brawny tail. It is protected by a tough, scaly hide where rows of ossified scutes form a strong body armour. Eyes, ears and nostrils are all located at the top of the crocodile’s head to make it possible for the animal to stay almost completely hidden below the waters edge. With some additional aid from its camouflaging appearance, the American crocodile can become almost invisible or look like a harmless log gently floating in the water. The eyes are protected by nicitating membranes and contain tear producing lachrymal glands. The jaws are very powerful, but most of the force is directed towards closing the jaws around prey; not opening the jaws. It is therefore much easier to keep a crocodile mouth shut than to force it to open.

The average length and weight for an adult male American crocodile is 4 metres (13 ft) and 382 kilograms (840 lb), respectively. For adult females, the average length is just 3 metres (9.8 ft) and females are also much lighter than male crocodiles, weighing no more than 173 kilograms (380 lb) on average.

Large crocodiles measuring 5 m (15.4 ft) or more and weighing about 400-500 kg (882-1102 lbs) have been reported from several different habitats in South- and Central America. A group of Costa Rican crocodiles living near a bridge over the Tárcoles River where they are fed daily by tourists frequently exceed 5 m (16.4 ft) in length. Several South American river basins are known to house at least a few adult males measuring about 6 m (20 ft). Crocodiles in the 6 m (20 ft) range typically exceed 1000 kg (2,204 lbs) in weight.

A 72.6 centimetres (28.6 in) skull of an American crocodile has been found, and if this skull is proportional to the body in the normal way for this species, it once belonged to a 6.6 metres (22 ft) crocodile.

American crocodile mobility

American crocodiles can reach a speed of 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) while swimming but they cannot sustain this speed for very long. They are ambush predators and do not need the ability to follow prey for prolonged periods of time. When an American crocodile swims, it moves its body and tail back in a flowing fashion.
American crocodiles can also walk on dry land and can cover substantial distances in search of new habitats. American crocodiles normally crawl on their belly, but they can also “high walk”, and larger specimens can reach a speed of 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) when galloping.  

American Crocodile feeding

The American crocodile is a carnivore species that will feed on a long row of different prey if given the opportunity. Young crocodiles feed on small animals like insects, snails and frogs, while adults hunt down and kill mammals, birds, turtles, crabs and fish. Really large crocodiles can overcome virtually any type of animal that ventures too close to the waters edge, including cattle, but even these giants will stick to a diet consisting primarily of fish. 

American Crocodile breeding

The female American crocodile attains sexual maturity when she’s about 8 feet (circa 2.5 meters) long. Flooding can kill the offspring so crocodiles nest during the dry season. When the young ones are ready to hatch, the annual rains are about to start.  

The couple usually engages in courting for a long period of time, sometimes up to two months, before any mating takes place. If possible, a hole will be excavated to serve as nest, but if no suitable sites for excavation are available the crocodile will instead build a mound nest using whatever nesting materials it can find. Nests are often found which contain eggs from two separate females.

Most females deposit 30-60 eggs, but some populations produce fewer eggs than this per batch. Hatching normally takes place after roughly three months and the emerging young are about 20-25 cm (8-10 in) in length. They weigh no more than 60 grams (0.13 lb) and are preyed upon by animals such as large fish, birds and wild cats.

The degree of parental care seems to vary among the individual crocodiles. Some researchers report of only minimal parental protection of the nest, eggs and newly emerged offspring, while others describe how the parent not only guards the offspring until they hatch but also continue to look after them afterwards by protecting them from predators. During the first half of the 20th century, the American crocodile was under immense hunting pressure and the low degree of parental care witnessed in many of today’s crocodiles may be an adaptation to this.

American Crocodile facts

American Crocodile facts # 1
The American crocodile grows faster than the American alligators and is much more tolerant of salt water.

American Crocodile facts # 2
Many people believe that the American crocodile could be found in a much larger part of the United States a few centuries back, but the truth is that this species has been limited to southern Florida throughout recorded history. The American crocodile is less cold tolerant than the American alligators and can not move into northern Florida and similar environments since the winters there can be comparatively harsh and much colder than what this crocodile is used to from the tropics. When alligators are subjected to low temperatures they hibernate, but the American crocodile can not do this and will die if the temperature drops below 15° C (60° F) for any longer period of time. The American alligator can also subsist in waters where the low temperature would immediately render the American crocodile immobile, causing it to drown.

Warm summer temperatures can make American crocodiles proceed northwards and they have for instance been sighted in Sarasota County and Palm Beach County in Florida, and in 2008 a specimen was found in the surf of Isle of Palms in South Carolina. 

American Crocodile facts # 3
The name Crocodylus acutus is a reference to the shape of the snout. In Latin, acutus means sharp or pointed.

The names Crocodile and Crocodylus are derived from the Greek word krokodeilos which literally translates into “pepple worm” or “pepple man”. Kroko means pebble in Greek while deilos can denote both worm and man. The name is a reference to the rows of ossified scutes that cover the body of a crocodile.

Read more American Crocodile facts

American Crocodile lifespan

American Crocodiles can reach an age of at least 70 years, but the average life span in the wild is just 55 years. There are some indications that this species may have the potential to live for over 100 years in ideal conditions.  



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