The Differences Between Alligators and Crocodiles

The Differences Between Alligators and Crocodiles

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  1. Everglades National Park

    While vacationing in Florida with my family, one of my nephews pointed at something lurking in the water in the Everglades and said, “Look, there’s a crocodile!”

    My niece, his sister, chimed in and claimed, “No, that’s an alligator. There aren’t any crocodiles in Florida.”

    So my nephew turned to the resident know-it-all, me, and asked with unmasked suspicion, “Is that true?”

    “No,” I said. The single word made my nephew gloat with pride and hover over his younger sister. “Florida is the only place in the world that has both alligators and crocodiles.”

    Blindly trusting my word on the matter, my niece asked, “But what’s the difference between the two?”

    I gave it some thought and eventually answered, “An alligator has more white meat and is less chewy than a crocodile.”

    That was when my sister’s kids, wise beyond their years, decided to stop trusting everything I said.

    This issue has confused many people over the years, understandably so, because from a distance both animals look very much alike. To determine which is which, you must get fairly close to the animal, and who wants to do that? Fortunately, we all have TVs that show documentaries on wildlife and have access to books that describe the Earth’s creatures in great detail. Unfortunately, some of us are just too lazy to open a book, doing online research can be a pain for the inexperienced and you can’t always trust the information you find unless you go to a reliable source.

    Fortunately, you came to the right place.


    It’s all in the Jaws… Kind of

     The most telltale difference between alligators and crocodiles is the jaw. Alligators have broad, oval jaws that are not so long, with a noticeable overbite as the upper jaw extends visibly over the lower jaw. On the other hand, crocodiles’ have much narrower and longer jaws, and the upper and lower jaws are approximately the same length. When an alligator’s mouth is closed—the preferred and less scary position—you are less likely to see its teeth unless you are underneath the animal, which is about as unenviable position as you can have. However, crocodiles’ teeth are visible whether their mouths are open or closed, which is why anyone can plainly see that they never floss between meals.


    American Alligator

     Both animals have Dermal Pressure Receptors, special tiny organs that detect minute changes in water pressure to help them catch their food. The difference is that alligators only have these along their jaws and crocodiles have them nearly covering their entire bodies. These receptors look like little dark pits, but if you’re close enough to see them clearly, you’re probably in dire need of rescue.


    American Crocodile

    Other differences include the propensity toward lighter coloration in several species of crocodile as compared to alligators, the delightfully refreshing tendency that alligators have of swimming away from people normally,  whereas some crocs are known to treat us humans as a sack lunch (the sack would be our clothes, which do not appeal at all to crocodiles). With the exceptions of the Australian “freshies” and the Nile Crocs, most crocodiles live in brackish to salty water as where alligators prefer fresh water. Lastly, you’re apt to find alligators in only two places, other than in zoos: the southeast United States and some isolated parts of China; crocodiles, on the other hand, live in fresh, brackish or salt water all around the world—but only live in warm water (an average of at least 80 degrees Fahrenheit), so you’re probably safe if you vacation in Alaska… unless you encounter polar bears.

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