Dwarf Crocodile

Dwarf Crocodile

Dwarf Crocodile information

The African dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis) is the smallest living crocodile in the world. The medium length for adults is 1.5 meters (5 feet) and the largest known specimen was no bigger than 1.9 meters (6.2 feet).

Dwarf Crocodile taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Sauropsida
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Crocodylidae
Genus:           Osteolaemus
Species:         Osteolaemus tetraspis

There are two recognised subspecies:
Osteolaemus tetraspis tetraspis (West African Dwarf Crocodile)
Osteolaemus tetraspis osborni  (Osborn's Dwarf Crocodile or Congo Dwarf Crocodile)

O. t. osborni used to be recognized as a separate species, Osteoblepharon osborni. The taxonomic status of Osteolaemus tetraspis remains unclear and some evidence suggest that one or both subspecies might actually be species or species complex.  

Dwarf Crocodile conservation status

Osteolaemus tetraspis is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The estimated wild population is 25,000-100,000.

Survey data is lacking from considerable parts of the species range. In some areas, such as Gambia and Liberia, the populations are believed to be severely depleted, while other areas are known to have large and thriving populations. Its hide is not valuable but the species is sometimes hunted for its meat which is consumed by local people. Habitat destruction is believed to be the biggest threat to the survival of this species.  

Dwarf Crocodile range

The Dwarf crocodile is found in parts of sub-Saharan West Africa and West Central Africa. It is known from Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Côte d'Ivoire, Congo-Brazzaville, Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo-Kinshasa), Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierre Leone, and Togo.

The subspecies O. t. tetraspis is chiefly found in the western parts of the species range, while O. t. osborni is endemic to the Congo basin rainforest.  
The range of Osteolaemus tetraspis largely overlaps that of Crocodylus cataphractus.

Dwarf Crocodile habitat

The Dwarf crocodile inhabits tropical lowland regions where it resides primarily in slow-moving rainforest rivers and in permanent pools in swamps. Specimens can also be encountered Savannah pools and Dwarf crocodiles living in this type of environment survive the dry season by digging out a burrow for aestivation. 

Dwarf Crocodile size and appearance

The medium length for adult Dwarf crocodiles is 1.5 meters (5 feet), but the largest known specimen attained a length of 1.9 meters (6.2 feet).

The adult Dwarf crocodile is uniformly black on its back and sides while the underside is yellowish with a lot of black patches. Juveniles display light brown banding on body and tail and sport a yellow pattern on the head.  

The Dwarf crocodile has a bunt, short snout and is sometimes referred to as the African broad-nosed crocodile or Broad-snouted crocodile. The length of the snout is in fact the same as the basal width.

Since the Dwarf crocodile is so small the risk of it getting attacked by predators is larger than for most other crocodiles. To handle this, the Dwarf crocodile has developed a heavy armour with pronounced, ossified ventral scales that protects its neck, back and tail. Osteoderms are present on both the belly and the underside of the neck.

The subspecies O. t. osborni differs from O. t. tetraspis by having darker colours and less body armour. In addition to this, the snout is more upturned and pointy in O. t. tetraspis than in O. t. osborni.

Dwarf Crocodile feeding and diet

The Dwarf crocodile is a night active predator that feeds chiefly on fish, crustaceans and amphibians. If given the opportunity it readily eats carrion.

This species normally forage in the water or along the shoreline, but in areas with dense ground cover it can engage in extensive land raids – especially after heavy rains.

Populations studied in the Congo basin adapted their diet to the season. During the wet season they fed primarily on fish, but as fish grew scarce during the dry season they turned to crustaceans. Generally speaking, these populations had a much higher food intake during the wet season than in the dry season. 

Dwarf Crocodile breeding

Dwarf crocodiles tend to be solitary animals except for the breeding season.

At the beginning of the rainy season (May-June) the female crocodile will build a mound nest near the water. The nest consists of wet, decaying vegetation which will keep the eggs warm as it decomposes.

The female Dwarf crocodile produce no more than 20 eggs (usually around 10) per clutch which will incubate for 85-105 days. The hatchlings are slightly smaller than one foot (30 cm) as they emerge from the egg.

The female will guard the nest during the incubation period and continue to watch over her young after they’ve been hatched. Exactly how long Dwarf crocodiles are protected by their mother remains unknown.  

Hatchlings and young are preyed on by a long row of animals, including mammals, fish and other crocodiles.

 Dwarf Crocodile facts

Dwarf Crocodile facts # 1
Due to its numerous distinguishing features, the Dwarf crocodile is known under many different names in English, such as Rough-backed crocodile, Broad-snouted crocodile, African broad-nosed crocodile, Black crocodile and Bony crocodile. In other languages, it is known under names such as Bamba fiman, Stumpf krokodil, Crocodile à front large, Crocodile à nuque cuirassé, and Crocodile nain africain. 

Dwarf Crocodile facts # 2
Osteolaemus tetraspis literary means “bony throat, four shields”.  Osteolaemus is derived from the Greek words osteon (οστεον) and laimos (λαιμος) which means “bone” and “throat”, respectively. It is a reference to the powerful bony plates (osteoderms) that protects the neck of this small crocodile. Tetraspis is derived from the Greeks word tetra (τετρα), meaning “four”, and aspis (ασπις), meaning “shield” and alludes to the four bony plates (nuchal scales) found on the back of the neck.   

Dwarf Crocodile facts # 3
The Dwarf crocodile is chiefly a nocturnal species that will excavate a burrow in which it hides during the day. Sometimes these burrows have submerged entrances. If a Dwarf crocodile fails to locate a suitable spot for digging, it will instead rest between tree roots that stretch into the water. 

Dwarf Crocodile facts # 4
The skin of the Dwarf crocodile is not very desirable on the hide market since it is considered inferior compared to the skin of other crocodiles. Management programs based on sustainable harvesting is therefore not likely to be successful. Local people do use the skin to produce certain products, but the crocodile hunted for its meat rather than its hide. 

Dwarf Crocodile facts # 5
The Dwarf crocodile is considered a slow and timid species of crocodile.


Dwarf Crocodile lifespan

The Dwarf crocodile can live for up to 75 years.


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