Cuban Crocodile

Cuban Crocodile

Cuban Crocodile information

The Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, is medium sized crocodile with long, strong legs and a distinctive colouration. It was once found throughout the Caribbean but today only Cuba has a wild population of this species. The Cuba Crocodile is the most terrestrial of all crocodiles.

Cuban Crocodile taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Reptilia
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Crocodylidae
Genus:           Crocodylus
Species:         Crocodylus rhombifer

Cuban Crocodile conservation status

Crocodylus rhombifer is listed as Critically Endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 specimens are believed to remain in the wild, but they are only found in two fairly small Cuban locations which makes the species vulnerable.

In the past, hybridization with C. acutus was considered a problem, but recent evidence suggests that naturally-occuring hybridization may exist where sympatry occurs.

Cuban Crocodile habitat and range

The Cuban crocodile has been eradicated from most of its former range in the Caribbean and is today only found in Cuba. Somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 specimens are believed to inhabit a 300-square-kilometre (120 sq mi) section of the southwestern part of Cuba's Zapata Swamp and the Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud. Earlier, it could be encountered on Caribbean islands such as Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.

The Cuba Crocodile is the most terrestrial of all crocodiles, and compared to the American crocodile it is not very fond of saltwater, sticking mainly to freshwater habitats such as swamps, marshes and rivers.

Cuban Crocodile size and appearance

The Cuban Crocodile can be distinguished from the other members of its genus based on a number of features. Its scales are rougher and more “pebbled” and its legs are longer and more powerful. The scales on the legs are extra large and on the rear legs they are also heavily keeled.   

As an adult, the Cuba Crocodile is more brightly colored and it is also comparatively small compared to most other crocs. Cuban crocodiles rarely exceed 3.5 metres (11 ft) in length today, but reports from the past tell of us 5-metre (16 ft) individuals. The males grow bigger than the females. The top portion of the body is darker then the rest of the body in both sexes and is adorned with a pattern of black and yellow speckles. The tail features black blotches and/or bands. Due to the characteristic yellow and black patterning, this species has been nicknamed the Pearly Crocodile. 

The head is short and broad with a bony ridge behind the eyes. The iris is light in juveniles but darkens with age.  

Cuban Crocodile mobility

As mentioned above, the Cuba crocodile is the most terrestrial of all crocodiles. In addition to being a strong swimmer, it can walk as well as leap well. Its hind feet have reduced webbing, an adaptation that makes is more mobile on land than most other crocs, and it is known for its “high-walk”. By using its powerful tail it can make leaps up from the water and catch small animals from overhanging branches.  

Cuban Crocodile feeding and diet

Young Cuban crocodiles feed chiefly on small crustaceans and arthropods, while adult specimens eat fish, turtles and (occasionally) small mammals.

The Cuba Crocodile have 66 to 68 large teeth and the rear ones are blunt to make it easier for the crocodile to crash turtle carapace. 

Cuban Crocodile breeding

The breeding season of the Cuban Crocodile normally starts in May and lasts for three to four months. This species dig hole nests if possible, but will create mound nests if no suitable excavation area is available.

The exact number of eggs per batch depends on the size and age of the individual female, but the average is 30-40 eggs. Each egg is roughly 2-3 in (5-7.5 cm) in length. The temperature in the nest will determine the sex of the offspring. The incubation length is normally 58-70 days.

A large percentage of both egg and hatchlings gets eaten by mammals, reptiles or birds. Cannibalism does occur in this species.

The end of the American crocodile breeding season overlaps with the start of the Cuban crocodile breeding season and hybridization between the two species has been reported from the wild. In captivity, the Cuban crocodile is also known to hybridize with the Siamese crocodile. Both types of hybridization result in fertile offspring.

Cuban Crocodile facts

Cuban Crocodile facts # 1
Fossil records suggest that the Cuban crocodiles used to feed on the now extinct giant ground sloths. Having ground sloths as prey could explain why the Cuban crocodile has such powerful hind legs with reduced webbing – it may be an adaptation to hunting sloths on land.  

Cuban Crocodile facts # 2
A colony of Cuban crocodiles living at Gatorland in Florida has exhibited what researchers believe is true pack-hunting behaviour. This is remarkable since crocodiles have always been assumed to be solitary hunters.

Cuban Crocodile facts # 3
Within its native range, the Cuban crocodile is known under many different names, such as Caimán Zaquendo, Pearly crocodile, Cocodrilo de Cuba, Cocodrilo Perla, and Crocodile Rhombifère. Its scientific name, Crocodylus rhombifer, is a reference to the rhomb-shaped flank scales.

Cuban Crocodile facts # 4
Cuba crocodiles living in the same area form a dominance hierarchy based on size, sex and temperament. 

Cuban Crocodile facts # 5                  
Just like other crocodiles the Cuban crocodile needs warm temperatures to survive. It can’t generate heat metabolically in the way a mammal would and does instead rely on being heated up by the sun or in warm water.

Cuban Crocodile lifespan

Cuban crocodiles usually live no longer than 50-75 years.


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