Learn the facts about crocodiles and alligators.
Alligators and crocodiles have been considered villainous, man-eating monsters for centuries, but that wasn't always the case. In ancient Egypt, crocodiles were revered and even worshiped, but that worship was tinged with a deep-seated respect for this powerful, awesome creature. Myths sprouted up around these impressive beasts from the earliest time of man, and some persist today. Part of this is due to the fact that crocodiles and alligators have truly ancient roots, going all the way back to the period when dinosaurs still roamed the earth.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ALLIGATORS AND CROCODILES
The two are often confused, but visually crocs and alligators are quite different. Alligators have a very broad, wide snout, and crocodiles have a narrower snout and jaw. Also crocodiles often have a lower tooth that juts out noticeably, while an alligator's fourth tooth is hidden.
WHERE THEY LIVE
Crocodilians are a cold-blooded species, and require an average temperature of approximately 80 degrees Fahrenheit to survive. This being the case, they are found on warmer continents that have swampy or humid conditions for at least part of the season.
The American alligator lives almost exclusively in the lower southeast regions of North America, from the Carolinas to Texas. The caiman, a smaller species of crocodiles, populate a large section of southern Mexico, Central and South America. The Chinese alligator lives in the lower Yangtze valley in China. The American crocodile is scattered throughout the Everglades and Florida Keys, and in Mexico and Central America. The African Nile crocodile is one of the most notorious, often growing as large as 16 to 20 feet in length. Southeast Asia has the Indo-Pacific crocodile, which lives in Indonesia, to the Philippines, and Australia.
WHAT AND HOW THEY EAT
Crocodilians are pure carnivores and ambush their prey by stealth. They swim either under water or skim quietly along the top of the water until they are within striking range, when they then explode upon the prey, grabbing it in their massive jaws and dragging it under water to drown. What they eat depends upon the species and where they are located. A crocodilians diet can consist of fish, turtles, rodents, birds, both small and large mammals, other reptiles and insects or young or immature crocs or alligators. Also, many species can exist on one large meal for over six months to a year. They store their food energy in fat cells, and draw from these in-between meals. Crocodiles will often "roll" with large prey to rip off chunks of flesh, before swallowing.
APPEARANCE & TRAITS
All crocodilians have webbed feet, which are a defined mark to their life in water. They also have very tough, or armored skin, which is actually an overlapped set of scales. These scales help to protect the salt-water croc and alligators from the harsh salinity of the sea. The eyes and nostrils are set up high on the head and snout to allow it to keep its main body submerged while still being able to breathe and view their surroundings with ease. Crocodiles have a vertical pupil that allows them to hunt effectively at night.
Crocodilians have an excellent sense of smell and hearing. Their jaws are enormously powerful, but only on the downward bite, which give the croc that infamous "snap," like a spring-loaded hinge. Their teeth continue to grow their entire life. If they lose or break one off, another will soon grow to replace it. They also "shed" their teeth periodically, whether or not there's been damage.
Their broad, heavily muscled tail assists them in swimming smoothly and quickly. Even though they have short legs, they can move surprisingly fast on dry land. Alligators and crocodiles can live up to fifty years of age on average.
Like snakes, crocodilians lay eggs. Some species build nests of debris and earth, while others excavate holes for their offspring. All species lay their eggs on land, near water but well above the water line. The eggs hatch anywhere from two to three months after being layed. Although the mother may lay as may as fifty eggs, few of the baby crocodilian will survive to adult hood. They are prey for many other animals, from birds to fish.
ARE THEY DANGEROUS?
The answer is yes. Alligators are actually NOT known for being aggressive toward man unless nesting or unexpectedly disturbed, but crocodiles do and have killed humans if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Crocodilians are territorial, and males will defend their territory from intruders, be it man or beast. The Nile crocodiles are known for the large number of human fatalities they cause every year.
It's best never to approach one, even for a good "shot" with a camera. They can be very fast, even on land, and if you are in crocodile or alligator territory, it's advisable never to linger on a bank or decide to go for a swim. They are the masters of disguise, and usually are never seen until it's too late.