Orinoco Crocodile

Orinoco Crocodile

Orinoco Crocodile information

The Orinoco crocodile, Crocodylus intermedius, is a South American crocodile found in Colombia and Venezuela. It is critically endangered and its range has today been limited to two river systems; Orinoco and Meta.  

Orinoco Crocodile taxonomy

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

Orinoco Crocodile conservation status

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

The estimated wild population is comprised of 250-1,500 individuals. Additional survey work may yet reveal unknown populations.

Crocodylus intermedius is protected in both Colombia and Venezuela and listed on CITES Appendix I. Main threats include hunting for the hide trade, collection of juveniles for the live animal trade, pollution, habitat destruction, egg collection for the food market, and the use of crocodile teeth in alternative medicine.

Orinoco Crocodile range

The Orinoco crocodile is only found in Colombia and Venezuela. It inhabits the Orinoco river drainage basin and the Meta River drainage basin. Earlier, the Orinoco Crocodile could be encountered in other river systems as well, e.g. streams in the Andes' foothills, but its current range is limited to the two systems mentioned above.

Occasional alleged sightings of this species have been reported from island of Trinidad, over 150 miles to the north of Venezuela, but these sightings have not been confirmed and it is possible that the observed animals were American crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus). It has however been suggested that floods may sweep Orinoco crocodiles out to see against their will.

Orinoco Crocodile habitat

The Orinoco crocodile is a freshwater river crocodile found in the Orinoco river drainage basin and the Meta River drainage basin. In this region you will find the Llanos svannah which becomes waterlogged each rainy season, forming temporary seasonal rivers for the crocodiles to enjoy.

The Orinoco crocodiles survive the dry season by seeking shelter in burrows excavated in river banks or by moving to parts of the river system that hasn’t dried out. 

Orinoco Crocodile size and appearance

Most adults stay within the 3 to 4.8 m (9.9-16 ft) range, but occasional specimens will grow larger than this. The typical weight for an adult male is 380 kg (837 lbs) while females tend to stay around 200 kg (440 lbs).

The largest reported Orinoco crocodile was killed in 1800 and allegedly measured 6.6 m (22 ft) but this figure remains unconfirmed. Today’s male Orinoco crocodiles are not thought to exceed 5 m (16.5 ft) in length and the females stay even smaller.

The Orinoco crocodile looks quite similar to C. acutus, but its nose is more narrow and elongated, making its head look more like C. cataphractus than C. acutus. The Orinoco crocodile can also be recognized on its symmetrical dorsal armor.

There are three known color phases.

  1. Mariposo: Body grayish green with dark black dorsal patches.
  2. Amarillo: Body light tan with scattered dark areas.
  3. Negro: Body rather uniformly dark grey.

Orinoco Crocodile mobility

The Orinoco can move overland to search out remaining waters during the dry season. It doesn’t seem to like venturing into the ocean, but some findings suggest that Orinoco crocodiles might be sporadically and involuntarily swept out to sea by floods. More research is needed to establish its tolerance and preferences when it comes to saltwater since the subject is still far from thoroughly studied.    

Orinoco Crocodile feeding and diet

An adult Orinoco crocodile can overcome virtually any animal living within its range, but the bulk of its diet is made up by fish. It can also eat other aquatic vertebrates, birds, and terrestrial animals such as capybaras. If food is scarce it can force the croc to risk attacking other large predators in the area.   

Reports of attacks on domestic animals and humans exist, but this species is not present in heavily populated areas.

Juvenile Orinoco crocodiles feed chiefly on small fish and invertebrates.  

Orinoco Crocodile breeding

The Orinoco crocodiles mate during the dry season to ensure that the eggs will hatch as the rainy season starts. Roughly 14 weeks after mating, the female will dig out a nest, usually in a sand bank that is exposed due to the low water level. Most females lay at least 40 eggs per batch, but the number varies from 15 to 70. The eggs are placed in the nest where they will remain for 70 to 90 days before hatching. As the offspring emerge they make chirping sounds that alert the mother who will help dig them out of the hole and carry them to the water. The mother will defend her offspring for one to three years.

Some of the chief threats against the life of a young Orinoco crocodile are anacondas, caimans, tegu lizards, and American Black Vultures.  

Orinoco Crocodile facts

Orinoco Crocodile facts # 1
Within its native range the Orinoco crocodile is known under names such as Cocodrilo del Orinoco,  Caimán del Orinoco and Caimán del Llanos. In English it is referred to as Orinoco crocodile, Colombian crocodile, and Venezuelan delta crocodile.

Orinoco Crocodile facts # 2
The scientific name Crocodylus intermedius is a reference to the shape of the snout. In Latin, intermedius means “intermediate” and the name was chosen since the snout shape of Crocodylus intermedius is somewhere between the V-shape seen on most Crocodylus species and the parallel-sided snout of the Gavialis species.

Orinoco Crocodile facts # 3
With a typical weight of 380 kg, the male Orinoco crocodile is the largest predator on the South American continent.

Orinoco Crocodile facts # 4
Sustainable use and reintroduction plans are now aiding the species in Venezuela. In Colombia, a combination of farming programs and release programs are being considered by the government.

Since the early 1990s, a significant number of captive raised hatchlings have been reintroduced into national parks and private ranch lands in Venezuela, especially in the Llanos region where wildlife tourism provides an important source of income. Due to the high mortality rate of hatchlings, young adults measuring about 2 meters (6.5 feet) are also being released.

Orinoco Crocodile facts # 5
The largest zoo population of Orinoco crocodiles consists of 35 individuals living at the Dallas World Aquarium in Texas, USA.

Orinoco Crocodile lifespan

The Orinoco crocodile can reach an age of 60-80 years.


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