Mexican crocodile

Morelet’s crocodile, Mexican crocodile, Central American crocodile

Morelet’s crocodile information

Crocodylus moreletii, commonly known as Morelet’s crocodile, Mexican crocodile and Central American crocodile, is a small crocodile native to Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.

Morelet’s crocodile taxonomy

Kingdom:      Animalia
Phylum:         Chordata
Class:            Sauropsida
Order:           Crocodilia
Family:          Crocodylidae
Subfamily:    Crocodylinae
Genus:           Crocodylus
Species:         Crocodylus moreletii

Morelet’s crocodile conservation status

Crocodylus moreletii is listed as Conservation Dependant on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

The estimated wild population is comprised of 10,000-20,000 individuals.

Crocodylus moreletii was extensively hunted for its hide during the mid 20th century and its hide is still much sought after due to its lack of ventral osteoderms. Illegal hunting continues to be a problem, combined with habitat destruction.

Commercial farming has been set up and both Belize and Guatemala have shown interest in sustainable management programs. In Mexico, protected areas such as the Sian Kaán Biosphere Reserve are home to prosperous populations of Crocodylus moreletii.

When Morelet’s crocodile is kept and bred outside its native habitats it poses a threat to local crocodile species since escaped Morelets are known to establish feral populations that compete with locals. This has for instance occurred in Mexico where feral Morelets are causing problems for the American crocodile, C. acutus.

Morelet’s crocodile range

Morelet’s crocodile is native to Mexico, Guatemala and Belize.  

The range of Morelet’s crocodile overlaps that of the American crocodile (C. acutus) but the relationship between the two remains largely unknown.

Morelet’s crocodile habitat

Morelet’s crocodile is chiefly found in freshwater environments, such as swamps, marshes, lakes and rivers in forested regions. It prefers isolated and secluded inland areas.

Despite being chiefly a freshwater species that likes densely forested habitats with a lot of cover, Morelet’s crocodile do exist in brackish coastal waters and the grassy savannas of the Yucatan Peninsula as well.

Morelet’s crocodile size and appearance

The male Morelet’s crocodile can reach a length of 4.3 metres (14 feet), while the female is significantly smaller.

With both body and tail decorated with dark bands and spots, this grayish-brown crocodile looks similar to the American crocodile C. acutus and the two species are sometimes mistaken for each other. Morelet’s crocodile is however usually a bit darker than C. acutus.

Juveniles are bright yellow with some black bands.

Morelet’s crocodile feeding and diet

The juvenile Morelet’s crocodile feeds chiefly on small fish and invertebrates, e.g. insects that can be found in or near the water. As the crocodile grows larger it gradually expands it diet to include animals such as mammals, larger fish, birds, reptiles, and aquatic snails. Larger crocodiles are known to prey on young crocodiles.

Morelet’s crocodile is a skilled hunter but may also scavenge when given the opportunity.

Morelet’s crocodile breeding

Morelet’s crocodile normally breeds between April and June. The female will usually build a protecting mound nest near the water that is roughly 1 meter high and 3 meters wide ( ft x ft), but some females have been observed creating nests on floating vegetation instead.

Inside the nest, 20-45 eggs are laid before the rainy season starts. Nests have been found which contain eggs from more than one female. The eggs hatch after roughly 80 days and the female will aid the young by digging them out of the nest as she hears them chirp. She will also carry them to the water in her mouth.

Both male and female parents have been observed protecting eggs and young from predators and aggressive crocodiles. 

Juveniles Morelet’s crocodiles seek out densely covered environments where they can stay hidden from predators until they’ve grown large enough to ward off attacks. 

Morelet’s crocodile facts

Morelet’s crocodile facts # 1
Morelet’s crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, was named after French naturalist P.M.A. Morelet (1809-1892) who described the species in Mexico in 1850. Until the 1920s, the validity of C. moreletii remained unclear since it was unsure where the type specimen originated from. The species was frequently confused with both C. acutus and C. rhombifer.

Morelet’s crocodile fact # 2
A lot of animals prey on C. moreletii hatchlings, including turtles, snakes and birds. Racoons are fond of digging up the nests and devour the eggs.

Morelet’s crocodile fact # 3
Within its native range, C. moreletii is known by many different names, including Cocodrilo de Pantano, Lagarto Pantanero, Lagarto negro, Lagarto de El Petén, Lagarto Panza, Cocodrilo de Morelet, Morelet's crocodile, Central American crocodile, Mexican crocodile, Belize crocodile, Guatemalan crocodile, and Soft belly crocodile.

Morelet’s crocodile facts # 4
During the rainy season Morelet's crocodile becomes much more widely distributed than during the dry season, since the flooding makes it easier for the crocodile to seek out new environments. During the dry season, adult specimens are known to dig out burrow to aestivate in.

Morelet’s crocodile facts # 5
Morelet's crocodile sometimes prey on domestic animals like cats and dogs.

Morelet’s crocodile lifespan

Morelet's crocodile can reach an age of roughly 80 years in captivity, but the oldest known specimens from the wild are “just” 55-65 years old. 


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