Differences Between Crocodiles And Alligators

Alligators and crocodiles are among the oldest and largest reptiles on Earth today. However, although they are well known, for most people it is a challenge to know if when we have an animal of this type in front of us, it is a crocodile or an alligator. Therefore, today we want to show you essential differences between alligators and crocodiles that will allow you to recognize them more easily and thus avoid unnecessary confusion in the future.


1. Different families:

There are three groups (families) of crocodilians: the alligatoridae, which includes the alligator and the caimans; the crocodylidae, which includes the “true” crocodiles; and the gavialidae, which contains only the gharial. So, the first difference is that alligators and crocodiles are actually in different families.  This difference between crocodiles and alligators , although not detectable with the naked eye, is important to mention as it shows that these animals differ so much from each other that scientists have had to include them in two zoological families from the point of view of classification. Thus, true crocodiles have been included within the Crocodylidae family , while alligators belong to the Alligatoridae family.


2. Shape of the jaw:

The easiest way of telling apart crocodiles from alligators, however, is to look at their noses. Alligators (and caimans) have a wide “U” -shaped, rounded snout (like a shovel), whereas crocodiles tend to have longer and more pointed “V” -shaped noses. This is illustrated in the diagram to the left (C = alligator, D = crocodile). The broad snout of alligators is designed for strength, capable of withstanding the stress caused to bone when massive force is applied to crack open turtles and hard-shelled invertebrates which form part of their diet.

Of course, alligators eat softer prey too, but hard-shelled prey are ubiquitous in their environment and it’s a big advantage to be able to eat them. Conversely, the pointed snout of a crocodile isn’t quite as strong as the alligatorine shape, but the crocodile is still capable of exerting massive biting power. Crocodile jaws can be thought of as being more generalized – ideal for a wide variety of prey. The full extent of the way jaw shape influences diet isn’t particularly well studied in crocodilians, but it’s obvious that a very thin nose like a gharial’s is much better at dealing with a fish than a turtle.


3. Crocodiles can live in salt water; alligators don’t

An important characteristic that differentiates both groups is tolerance to salinity. Crocodiles have glands on their tongues that they use to excrete excess salt in the body, which is why some species can live in salt water . Alligators present them too but they are very inefficient, so they only tolerate living in fresh water. So if we see an animal of this type in the sea, we already know that it is for sure a crocodile.


4. Organs of the senses in the integument

Although, to detect this difference, a little more practice and closeness to the animal is needed, it is still valid. It turns out that both groups present on their skin small dark spots similar to splashes and with a small depression that have been shown to have a sensory function, especially in the detection of changes in pressure and salinity. In crocodiles , these structures are distributed throughout almost the entire body, while in alligators they are only found bordering the jaws.


5. Other differences:

The above points are amongst the most obvious differences between crocodiles and alligators in terms of external appearance. However, each species is unique, and to list all the possible differences would be like comparing a jaguar with a lion. Differences in behavior are also apparent. Most people regard crocodiles as more aggressive than alligators, and this is true of some species. For example, alligators are relatively docile next to saltwater crocodiles, but there are many species with many different kinds of behaviors and temperaments. A general rule that crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators just isn’t possible to make. Alligators can often reach at least 14 or 15 feet in length, which is larger than some crocodile species, but not others. The largest crocodile species is the saltwater crocodile,which can get to at least 17 or 18 feet – some rare individuals exceeding 20 feet after many years. The African dwarf crocodile, as a contrast, doesn’t grow larger than 4 or 5 feet.

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