10 Exciting Facts About The Gigantic American Crocodile

The American crocodile is a well-known, very large reptile with lots of teeth and a strong tail. In Florida, this awesome croc was named their state reptile in 1987. If you want to learn more about these fascinating crocodilians then keep reading to get all the info!

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Quick Facts

Scientific Name: Crocodylus acutus

Common Names: American Crocodile

Geographic Range: Belize, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador,
El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua,
Panama, Peru, United States (Florida), Venezuela

Life Span: Average: 60 – 70 Years
Maximum: 100 Years

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Top 10 List – American Crocodile

1. American Crocodiles Can Be Found In A Broad Range Of Aquatic Habitats

The American crocodile can be found in various different types of aquatic habitats. In freshwater areas, they can be found in rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. They can also be found in brackish canals and swamps, as well as various saltwater areas. In their habitats, they create complex burrowing systems when vulnerable to low water levels. These burrows allow them to shelter from the cold, hide, and rest. They will mainly choose the area they call home based on the amount of food available. The only reasons they will then leave this area is if the food runs out, or to mate. They tend to choose warmer areas, as they are less tolerant to the cold than other crocodilians.

2. American Crocodiles Have Rough Scaly Bodies

American crocodiles have an average length of around 3.5m (11.48 feet), with males usually larger than females. However, they have a max length of 7m (19.8 feet) in length, which is huge! There have been some reports of crocodiles being 7+ meters, however, these claims haven’t been proven. Their weight averages between 220 – 450 kg (485 – 992 lbs), but large specimens have been found to weigh up to 907 kg (2000 pounds)!

The coloring of these beauties can include olive, grey, or brown. Their narrow heads and long, narrow, tapered snouts help distinguish them from American alligators, which are also common in the same areas and have much wider snouts. The shape of their iris’ give them good night vision, and their eyes also have a protective clear eyelid that allows them to still see when underwater. Nostrils and eyes are located at the top of their head, as this allows them to conceal the rest of their body underwater, while still being able to breathe and see.

In their mouth, they have sharp jagged teeth that interlock with each other. The top of their jaw has 30 – 40 teeth, and the bottom has 28 – 38 teeth. Another way that they are distinguished from American alligators is that the American crocodile always has their 4th tooth exposed, while the alligator doesn’t. Finally, they have rough scaly bodies, short stocky legs, and a long and powerful tail.

3. The Temperature Of The Eggs While They Incubate Can Determine Their Sex 

Mating Rituals

Courtship for American crocodiles takes place In January and February and can last for up to 2 months. Males will compete and fight each other for access to female crocodiles. The breeding season itself takes place in April and May. In order to attract mates, the male will raise his head, roaring loudly, and open his mouth to show off his teeth. If the female is interested she will respond with her own roars, as well as lifting her snout and arching her tail. The last step of the mating ritual includes the pair rubbing snouts and submerging underwater.

Before mating, female crocodiles will build nests of sand, mud, and dead vegetation in an area that is open, near water, but still above the high water mark. These nests can be up to 1.5m (4.9 feet) deep and 1.8m (5.9 feet) wide.

Egg Incubation

After mating the female will dig a hole into the nest and lay anywhere from 30 to 60 eggs. After this, she will most often cover the nest with dirt. The eggs are then kept warm from the generation of heat by the rotting vegetation that is in the nest. Interestingly, the temperature of the eggs, while they incubate, can determine the sex of the babies. Below 30°C (86°F) means the hatchlings will be mostly female, above 34°C (93°F) is mostly male, and 30 – 34°C (86 – 93°F) will be a fairly even mix of both males and females.

While the eggs are incubating the mother will guard the nest against predators like scavenging animals. These scavenging animals include raccoons, coatis, foxes, skunks, ants, crabs, vultures, and even occasionally green iguanas. Close to hatching time, after 9 or 10 weeks of incubating, the mother will rest her head above the nest, listening for the hatching noises of the hatchlings. After she hears these noises she will uncover the nest allowing the newly hatched crocodiles to come out of the nest. When they are ready she will help escort them to the water in her mouth.

4. Unlike Adult American Crocodiles, Hatchlings Are Not Good At Handling Saltwater

After the American crocodile young hatch out of the egg, they rely on the yolk of the egg sac for nutrition for up to 2 weeks. When they first come out of the egg they are around 24 – 27 cm (9.5 – 10 inches) in length. The hatchlings are a lighter tan color, with darker stripes on their body. Once they are ready to eat they start by hunting small insects on land and graduate to larger prey as they grow. The mother may protect the babies for up to a few weeks after hatching, after which she will leave and they are on their own. While the mother is still around, the hatchlings will use their high-pitched call to alert their mother that they need help.

Many of the hatchlings will not survive, as they are small and can be preyed upon by raptorial birds, other reptiles, and large fish. Since they are so vulnerable they spend a majority of time hiding. Those that do survive will grow rapidly, soon becoming a top predator themselves.

Unlike adult American crocodiles, hatchlings are intolerant to saltwater. Since hatchlings often hatch during the rainy season, hatchlings that live near saltwater are able to drink the brackish film on the top of the saltwater that occurs after a rainfall.

5. On Warm Sunny Days They Will Bask In The Sun With Their Mouths Open

American crocodiles are solitary animals and prefer to spend their time alone and will retreat from any disturbances near them. However, if they feel threatened they can become aggressive and will defend themselves. During the dry season, they tend to become lethargic, burying themselves in the mud and not eating as much. As they are nocturnal, they are most active during the evenings and at night.

Since they rely on external sources of heat to maintain their body temperature, they often move to hotter or colder areas depending on their needs. They will also bask in the sun on nice days, with their mouths hanging open. While it may look aggressive, it actually isn’t aggressive at all! They do this to help maintain their body temperature at a comfy 25°C (77°F), as well as make their digestion more efficient and boost their metabolism. In the evenings they will submerge themselves underwater because water cools slowly and maintains heat longer, so this allows them to stay warm as long as possible.

While American crocodiles usually get around by either swimming or crawling, they do occasionally do what is called a “high walk”, which is pictured above. Larger crocs can charge up to almost 16km/h (10mph) for short distances. In order to get around by swimming, they move their body and tails in a sinuous fashion, and they are able to travel up to 32 km/h (20 mph).

6. They Can Communicate With Each Other Through Noises – Such As Roars

There are a few different ways that the American crocodile can communicate. They mainly communicate through noises like roars, which are used to defend their territory and attract mates. In order to court potential mates during mating season, they use infrasonic sound, which makes ripples on the surface of the water. Young crocodiles will also call out for their mothers in order to receive protection.

Territorial displays include the crocodile slapping the water with their head and tail, as well as thrashing their tails around. The position of their body in the water also communicates to other crocodiles either submission or dominance. Dominant males will swim at the top of the water with their whole bodies exposed. Females and submissive males will swim lower down, only exposing their heads or snout.

7. American Crocodiles Are Carnivorous

American crocodiles are carnivorous apex predators, meaning they are at the top of the food chain. Their main diet consists of fish, frogs, turtles, snails, crabs, mammals, and birds. The food they consume the most depends on the size of the crocodile. So for example small hatchlings tend to hunt for insects on land. Juveniles that are slightly larger eat more aquatic invertebrates and small fish. And then, of course, as large adults, they are able to eat almost anything they can catch.

These crocs tend to ambush their prey, grabbing the prey with their large strong jaws, and if possible swallowing their food whole. When sneaking up on animals on the shoreline they will ambush them, grab them, and then drown them by doing what is known as a “death roll” which is when they rapidly roll around.

Interestingly, they also will swallow rocks and small stones. They do this to aid in grinding up the food in their stomachs, helping their digestion. American crocodiles are also able to go a long time without food, without suffering a bunch of negative consequences.

8. Due To Overhunting, They Are Now Vulnerable  

The IUCN Red List re-assed the American crocodile on Feb 25th, 2020, and listed it as vulnerable with a population trend of increasing. They are also listed as endangered under the United States Endangered Species Act, which protects them from being poached or hunted. They are also protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), which prohibits the commercial trade of these animals.

A huge reason for their large decline in population was the fact that they used to be poached for their hides at a large rate. This occurred a large amount during the 1930s – 1960s, as their hide could sell for a lot of money. They were also killed for their meat. The main current threats to their population are a loss of habitat, illegal killings, diseases, as well as road fatalities.

9. It Is Important To Be Aware Of Your Surroundings If You Are In Crocodile Territory

Throughout history, there have been some reports of attacks and deaths caused by American crocodiles. Their temperament is considered to be in the middle of the crocodiles, not overly aggressive like Nile and saltwater crocodiles, but not exactly docile either. Old-world crocodiles tend to have a more aggressive attitude than the American crocodile, who tends to be shyer and prefers to run away. A study by IUCN reported that American crocodiles have the highest reports of attacks on humans of any crocodilians from the Americas, however, fatalities were rare. From 1995 – 2017, 36 attacks were reported in the Cancun area of southeastern Mexico. They may also attack pets and farm animals if given the chance. However, don’t be too scared of these big beauties, make sure to stay aware of your surroundings and keep a wide distance between you and the croc, and you’ll be fine.

10. American Crocodiles Can Sometimes Be Mistaken For Morelet’s Crocodile, And Vice Versa

The American crocodile and Morelet’s crocodile can often be mistaken for each other. Their range overlaps in Mexico, meaning they can both live in the same place, and they both have a similar appearance. In fact, for a long time, Morelet’s crocodile was confused for both the American and Cuban crocodiles. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that it was accepted as its own species. The American crocodile is usually larger than Morelet’s crocodile.

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