Critter Question: What is the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?

We get a lot of questions about reptiles at our shows.  One frequently asked question is how to tell the difference between crocodiles and alligators.

Crocodiles, alligators, caimans, and gavials all belong to the same order of reptiles, the Crocodilia.  There are around 23 species of living crocodilians in the world today (depending on what herpetologist you talk to)  that are divided into 3 families:  the alligators and caimans (Alligatoridae); the crocodiles (Crocodylidae); and the gavials (Gavialidae.)

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All crocodilians share many of the same characteristics such as heavily armored scales called osteoderms, long muscular jaws filled with sharp, conical teeth, 4 limbs, and a long, muscular tail.

Some of the differences between alligators and crocodiles are:

1.  Size: Alligators are smaller than most species of crocodiles.  The largest alligators can grow to around 12 feet long and weigh around 500 pounds.  The largest crocodiles can grow to almost 20 feet long and can weith over 1,000 pounds!!

2. Color: Alligators are usually black as adults and black with yellow bands as juveniles.  Crocodiles are typically tan, gray, or green.

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3.  Range: Alligators are the only crocodilians to live in temperate areas of the world.  Chinese alligators live in the warmer, temperate parts of China and American Alligators live in the southeastern part of the United States from eastern North Carolina south through Florida and west into eastern Texas.  Crocodiles live in tropical parts of the world.

4.  Teeth: When alligators close their mouths, you can still see teeth pointing down from the top jaw.  When crocodiles close their mouths, you can see teeth sticking down and up from both the top and lower jaws.  So, crocodiles have a “toothier” smile.

5.  Head shape: Many people say that alligators have a more rounded snout shape and crocodiles have a more pointed head shape, but of course there are always exceptions to this rule.

Sssseee you later alligators!