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Understanding 9 Key Differences between Alligators and Crocodiles

Alligators and crocodiles are dissimilar species, and people need to learn about these features. Learn more about these wild animals' characteristics here.

Telling apart alligators and crocodiles have been among the challenging activities of learning about these kinds of wild animals. Although both are cold-blooded species and can be seen in the United States, many students and interested people still find it hard to explain what makes them dissimilar. 

We understand this long-standing challenge. Hence, we guarantee that the task of contrasting alligators and crocodiles can be effortless through this discussion.

We want to educate our readers regarding what makes alligators and crocodiles different from each other. In this manner, they will get to know these undomesticated animals more and properly respond if they encounter one in the wild.

Understanding the 9 Salient Disparities Between Crocodiles and Alligators

This discussion features nine aspects we used to tell these alligators and crocodiles apart. These attributes include age, biting power, color, demeanor, and natural habitat and temperature capacity. 

We also included information about alligators and crocodiles’ size, skin, snout shape and jaw, and their family. These aspects help differentiate the two species from each other. 

We have also included an important Frequently Asked Question section that gives more information about alligators and crocodiles. Here are the nine salient aspects that make alligators and crocodiles different from each other:

1. AGE

Alligator

Scientists traced alligators’ existence back to the late Cretaceous period. Nonetheless, we want to stress that these species’ ancestors are not as old as those of crocodiles’.

Early alligators consist of Mourasuchus and Deinosuchus. Both of these species are from the late Cretaceous period and not the Jurassic period.

Crocodile

Crocodiles are a bit older than alligators if we consult fossil records. Scientists traced these wild species’ existence from approximately 70 million years ago to the late Cretaceous period.

Nevertheless, crocodiles’ ancestry goes back even farther than that time. The animals that would later become crocodiles are aquatic species called Thalattosuchia. 

Scientists traced their existence back to the Jurassic period and lived more than 200 million years ago. Sarcosuchus is considered the first land crocodile that was more than 40 feet long and appeared in fossil records approximately 110 million years ago.

 

2. BITING POWER

Understanding 9 Key Differences between Alligators and Crocodiles

Alligator

An alligator’s teeth are not pointed but rather cone-shaped. Meanwhile, its jaw is for crushing prey instead of tearing. Alligators’ bite strength is approximately 2,500 pounds per square inch or psi.

Crocodile

A crocodile’s teeth are pointed and sharp, and they are for tearing prey. These species’ bite strength is incredible and more powerful than alligators’. With greater biting power, crocodiles’ bite strength is roughly 3,700 psi.

 

3. COLOR

Alligator

Alligators typically come in black or dark green. We want to illustrate this feature with the American alligator as an example. 

This wild animal is a shiny, dark green creature that can appear nearly black in specific lights. Alligators are also much darker than crocodiles.

We want to stress that alligators’ and crocodiles’ hues will vary based on their natural habitats. Alligators tend to stay close to the banks of lakes and rivers, and their colors are designed to blend with the substrate and the mud.

Crocodile

Crocodiles usually come in shades of black, green, brown, and grey. Moreover, these species typically have a speckled or mottled pattern in their bodies, aiding them in blending with the substrate and algae.

We want to give American crocodiles as an example. These species are normally slate grey and have a yellow to white underside.

Crocodiles’ countershading is this light and dark coloration that permits them to blend into the water while on the hunt. Other crocodile species come in diverse shades, depending on their environments’ colors. 

We want to highlight that crocodiles tend to reside in open water locations with much more algae. Plus, they are typically going to come in greener shades to match. 

The Nile crocodile features brown speckles and is deep green, matching the Nile River’s substrate. Meanwhile, the saltwater crocodile is the best example of the common green crocodile. It features dark green scales that assist it in blending in with algae.

 

4) DEMEANOR

Alligator

Alligators and crocodiles may frighten spectators. However, the former make up less than six percent of all reported crocodilian aggression.

Additionally, we want to point out that alligators are more terrified of humans than the latter are of it. These species will only attack when they are safeguarding their offspring or eggs or when disturbed.

Crocodile

American crocodiles are bashful, unlike other species. They are more likely to shy away from people unless they get provoked.

Nevertheless, when alligators and crocodiles are contrasted, the latter are more aggressive. Larger crocodiles like the saltwater and Nile ones are prominent for their belligerent attacks on people.

These opportunistic predators are very dangerous, and they will go after anything they see moving. We also want to emphasize that a hungry crocodile will never hesitate to attack someone who gets too close to it. 

There are several hundred reported crocodile attack cases on people yearly. These incidents are greater than the number of yearly shark attacks. Most of these crocodile attacks happen in Australia, where saltwater crocodiles reside and teem. 

 

5. NATURAL HABITAT AND TEMPERATURE CAPACITY

Alligator

Both alligators and crocodiles are cold-blooded species. However, they differ in natural habitats and temperature capabilities.

Alligators normally live near the shore. Their dwelling is mostly swamplands, lakes, and rivers’ low-flow areas.

Furthermore, we want to stress that alligators are unable to thrive in saline waters. Unlike crocodiles, alligators, such as the American alligator, live in more states because of their temperature capacity.

Alligators can live in colder states and regions. They can survive in temperatures as low as 79 degrees Fahrenheit before becoming dormant. 

Crocodile

Most crocodile species reside in marshes and wetlands alongside lakes and rivers. They may sometimes venture out into fast-moving streams, channels, and rivers because they can live in salty waters. 

We want to emphasize that crocodiles and alligators are different because the former need a higher temperature to survive. Crocodiles mostly thrive in locations with temperatures ranging from 85 to 93 degrees Fahrenheit.

 

6. SIZE

Alligator

Alligators are smaller than crocodiles. Female alligators are between 8 to 10 feet long and weigh from 500 to 700 pounds heavy.

On the other hand, male alligators can weigh up to 1,000 pounds heavy and reach an average length of 12 to 13 feet long. 

Crocodile

Most crocodiles are bigger than alligators. We want to give the American crocodile as a good classic example. 

This wild animal reaches a maximum length of 20 feet long. However, we want to emphasize that the American crocodile is typically between 15 to 17 feet long.

Additionally, its weight can be in the neighborhood of 800 to just over 1,000 pounds heavy. Meanwhile, the saltwater crocodile is the largest and can reach up to 23 feet long. Crocodiles are larger than an alligator by roughly 4 to 6 feet long on average.

7. SKIN

Alligator

Both alligators and crocodiles possess dome pressure receptors on their skin. These features permit them to detect ripples in the water and regulate water pressure when swimming.

Nevertheless, we want to stress that alligators’ dome pressure receptors are visible as small, black spots close to their jaw. Additionally, alligators do not have salt glands. 

Crocodile

Crocodiles’ dome pressure receptors are translucent. Plus, these physical features are scattered all over their body.

With these characteristics, we want to highlight that they are among the reasons crocodiles swim better in open water, unlike alligators. Moreover, crocodiles possess salt glands on their tongues, which enable them to osmoregulate in high salinity locations.

 

8. SNOUT SHAPE AND JAW

Alligator

Alligators possess broad and large snouts shaped like the letter U. Additionally, we want to highlight that these species’ jaws close downwards, and their top teeth are merely the ones visible.

Alligators’ notches in their bottom jaw conceal their bottom teeth when their mouth is closed.

Crocodile

Each crocodile species has a pointed and V-shaped snout. This feature may be very narrow or very wide.

Nevertheless, every crocodile species’ snout will always have the same pointed shape. Meanwhile, we want to emphasize that crocodiles’ jaws also shut from the top-down instead of from the bottom-up.

Crocodiles’ underbite and overbite mean their jaws expose their bottom and top teeth in a “jagged” formation. 

 

9.  SPECIES FAMILY

Alligator

Both alligators and crocodiles belong to the Crocodilia order, which is a group that consists of caimans and gharials. However, they do not belong to a similar family. 

Alligators belong to the family Alligatoridae, which comprises five species of caimans and two species of alligators. In the United States, we want to inform our readers that they can find two species of crocodilians.

They are the American crocodile, with the scientific name of Crocodylus acutus, and the American alligator, or Alligator mississipiensis.

Crocodile 

There are more crocodile species, and they belong to the family Crocodylidae. This group consists of 13 different species.

We want to educate our readers that these crocodiles are visible and abundant in Australia, the United States, Southeast Asia, Africa, and India. 

Understanding 9 Key Differences between Alligators and Crocodiles

Considering the important factors such as age, biting power, color, demeanor, and natural habitat and temperature capacity all help in telling apart alligators and crocodiles. These species also differ in terms of size, skin, snout shape and jaw, and species family.

We want to inform our readers that it pays to go over and study these disparities every now and then. In this way, they can understand how to react properly if they see alligators or crocodiles

Quick Summary

Alligators and crocodiles are, indeed, different from each other. Here is a quick run-down of their salient disparities:

  1. AGE – Crocodiles are a bit older than alligators in terms of length of existence in history.
  2. BITING POWER – Crocodiles’ biting power is stronger than that of alligators’.
  3. COLOR – Crocodiles can be light green, brown or light grey, while alligators have dark hues, including dark green and black.
  4. DEMEANOR – Crocodiles are more aggressive and dangerous than alligators.
  5. NATURAL HABITAT AND TEMPERATURE CAPACITY – Crocodiles live in marshes and wetlands and can survive in salty waters and areas with high temperatures. 

On the other hand, alligators cannot survive in saline waters and usually thrive in colder states and regions.

  1. SIZE – Crocodiles are larger than alligators.
  2. SKIN – Crocodiles have translucent dome pressure receptors all over their bodies and possess sweat glands. 

In contrast, alligators’ dome pressure receptors are tiny dark spots near their jaws, and they do not have sweat glands.

  1. SNOUT SHAPE AND JAW – Crocodiles have pointed, V-shaped snouts, while alligators have U-shaped ones.
  2. SPECIES FAMILY – Crocodiles belong to the family Crocodylidae, while alligators belong to the family Alligatoridae, and there are more species of crocodiles than alligators today.

With these striking differences, we understand that our readers may still have more questions. After all, the topic of contrasting alligators and crocodiles is broad and includes other interesting facts worthy of discussing.

Frequently Asked Questions about Crocodiles and Alligators

  1. If an alligator and a crocodile fight each other, which species would most likely win or survive?

In a hypothetical battle between alligators and crocodiles, the latter would most likely be victorious. We want to highlight the fact that crocodiles’ bite strength is more than 3,500 pounds per square inch or psi.

Plus, crocodiles are likely to attack even when they are unprovoked. On the other hand, an American alligator’s bite power is merely about 2,900 psi.

Alligators are also smaller in size and weight, making them prey to crocodiles when they fight.

 

  1. Can crocodiles and alligators live together?

Alligators and crocodiles do not have the same natural habitat. Alligators reside in swamps and marshes along the banks of rivers and lakes. 

On the other hand, crocodiles typically venture out into open water, fast-moving streams, channels, and rivers and where the sea meets the river. 

We know that some curious animal lovers know that the southernmost tip of the US state of Florida is where alligators and crocodiles live together. 

However, we want to emphasize that this location is a special case. Even in South Miami, Florida, alligators and crocodiles do not live in a similar natural habitat. 

 

  1. Are alligators faster than crocodiles?

Although both species may appear lazy when they bask in the sun, alligators and crocodiles can outrun humans easily. Nonetheless, alligators are much faster than crocodiles. 

These species can hit speeds of up to 30 miles per hour on land. In contrast, crocodiles can just reach about 20 miles per hour over a very short distance. 

In the water, an alligator’s pace is slowed to roughly 25 miles per hour. Meanwhile, a crocodile’s speed is also decelerated to approximately 18 miles per hour.

 

  1. What are some tips on how to avoid getting attacked by a crocodile or an alligator?

Encountering alligators and crocodiles can be inevitable, especially when visiting the tropical regions of Australia, Africa, Asia, and North and South America, where these wild species live. 

Nonetheless, the following are helpful techniques on how to avoid getting attacked by these members of the Crocodilia order:

  • Before approaching bodies of water, moving to, or visiting a tropical location, ask local authorities and residents about the presence of alligators and crocodiles, as well as of caimans.
  • Take the warning signs about the presence of alligators and crocodiles seriously.
  • Never swim outside of designated locations in regions where alligators and crocodiles are known to dwell.
  • Do not assume that an unmarked potential swimming area is safe.
  • Never let one’s familiarity with alligators and crocodiles lead to a false sense of security. After all, nearly 95 percent of crocodile attacks in Northern Australia have involved local people.
  • Remember that crocodiles attack people doing water activities such as wading at the water’s edge, gathering water, and fishing.
  • Crocodiles attack and overturn boats and will even aggressively grab tourists off of their boats and drag them into the water.
  • Keep in mind that saltwater crocodiles are usually on ocean beaches, and they even traverse the open sea. 
  • Crocodilians can attack anytime, so it is important to stay alert during the daytime and especially during nighttime. 
  • Stay away from the water before nightfall because crocodilians are most active and dangerous at night and dusk.
  • If a tourist finds himself on or close to infested water after dark, he should make sure to utilize a headlamp or flashlight to check the location frequently for eye-shine.
  • Be extra cautious during the breeding season. It is also important to understand this period. After all, alligators and crocodiles are at their most dangerous state during breeding and mating seasons when they are more aggressive. 

These species are also frequently encountered on land during this period, as they sometimes wander looking for a suitable nesting site or a partner. Nesting crocodilian mothers are especially ferocious and will defend their nests viciously.

  • Take care of one’s pets, such as dogs, by not walking them near the crocodile and alligator’s natural habitats. The latter are attracted to small animals’ movement and sound. American alligators are known to be fond of eating dogs. 
  • Never permit small children to play close to the water’s edge or stay unattended in crocodilian land. Alligators and crocodiles prefer tinier prey, and unluckily, attacks on small children are quite common.
  • Tourists should never feed alligators and crocodiles intentionally, even if they understand these undomesticated species’ nature.
  • Set up camp far away from water when camping in alligator or crocodile country. Pitch one’s tent at least two meters or six feet above the high water mark and at least 50 meters or 164 feet from the water’s edge.
  • Check one’s camping site to ensure that previous campers did not leave food and garbage that may entice crocodilians to that site.
  • Store food securely, dispose of garbage and food scraps in secure cans away from one’s campsite and ensure to clean up the location to prevent attracting crocodilians from going there and getting close to people.