What Is The Difference Between A Crocodile And An Alligator?
Crocodiles and alligators are amazing creatures, surviving largely unchanged for over 200 million years. Man, by comparison, has been around for approximately 3 million years. Following a recent trip to a safari park, my inquisitive little boy – who was clearly impressed by these beasts – asked, “Daddy, what’s the difference between a crocodile and an alligator?” Good question I thought. So what’s the answer?
Well, both crocodiles and alligators are reptiles and members of the Crocodilia order, which also includes the less well known gharial or gavial which are located in the Indian subcontinent. But they do belong to different families (meaning a lower or more specific biological classification), crocodiles to Crocodylidae and alligators to the aptly named Alligatoridae.
Although many people confuse the two on sight, there a number of clear physical distinctions and differences in appearance. For example, crocodiles have longer, narrower heads with a V-shaped type snout whereas alligators tend to have shorter, wider heads and more of a U-shaped snout. The alligator’s top jaw is wider than its lower one which means that when it has its mouth closed, one only tends to see the upper teeth. The crocodile’s upper and lower jaws by comparison are typically the same width usually leading to all teeth being on display even when it has its mouth is closed (spooky!). Moving down the body, alligators lack the kind of jagged fringe which shows on the back legs and feet of the crocodile. Another physical difference is that crocodiles tend to be a lighter colour than alligators, the former often a browny olive shade the latter almost black. They are rarely the type of green one sees in cartoons and in pictures.
Alligators can be found in South Eastern USA and some parts of Central and South America, plus China. Crocodiles are wider spread around the globe and live throughout the tropics in the Americas, Asia, Australia and Africa. Crocodiles usually lay their eggs in sand or mud nests either in fresh or brackish (salty) water, while alligators use the vegetation around freshwater to construct their nests. They rarely stay for long in brackish areas because they have a lower tolerance for salt water than crocodiles.
Which is more dangerous?
Of course, my son also wanted to know which was the most dangerous! Generally speaking, crocodiles tend to grow larger (though that is not always true) and for the most part are considered the more aggressive. Indeed, the saltwater crocodile can grow up to 23 feet long even though its eggs tend to be no bigger than those of a goose. Having said that, because of the wider snout, alligators can pack incredible crushing power in their bite. But, differences aside, both of these remarkable creatures are highly evolved predators, will eat just about everything they can, and sometimes don’t even stop to chew...