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Alligator vs Crocodile: All Differences Explained In 2021

Have you ever seen an alligator or crocodile in the wild? If you saw these reptiles, from a safe distance, do you know how to tell them apart? At first glance, these two species have many similar characteristics.

Both the alligator and the crocodile are reptiles, have thick, bumpy, and scaly skin, long snouts, long powerful tails, strong jaws, sharp teeth, stubby legs, and both are at home on land and in water. Yet within these similarities, there are some distinct differences. Learning what the differences are will help you tell them apart.

The information listed below will help you on your way to identifying the differences between a crocodile vs alligator.

Crocodile vs Alligator: 10 Ways to Tell Them Apart

You will rarely find crocodiles and alligators together in the same place. If that were the case it may be easier to tell them apart because you would have a side-by-side comparison. When out on your alligator or crocodile safari, you will see only one of these species.

Below is a list of ten ways to tell a crocodile and alligator apart and will help you identify some of the distinct characteristics. So if you ever find yourself in a situation where you need to identify which of the two reptiles you are seeing, this list of ten ways to tell the difference between a crocodile vs alligator is your resource.

The top four characteristics listed below are the easiest and quickest ways to identify a crocodile vs alligator. While the remaining six differences in this list are more difficult to observe.

Most of the facts about crocodiles and alligators listed below are referenced from an article written by David Jonathan, Alligator vs Crocodile; All 9 Different Ways to Tell Them Apart. March 3U2Q21- on EvervthinareDtiles.com.

Crocodile in Lake
Crocodile in Lake

1. Location

One main difference between an Alligator and Crocodile is their location. If you are in the United States and are out on a boat in a marsh or fresh body of water and this threatening reptile with a big jaw and long tail swims towards you. Most likely it is an American Alligator. Unless you are at the southern tip of Florida.

Alligators are found all around the United States in lakes, swamps, freshwater marshes, and rivers. Crocodiles are usually found in saltwater environments. According to David’s article, there is only one area in the United States where you will find both Alligators and Crocodiles and that is along the Southern tip of Florida.

Crocodiles live along the coastlines and marshes of South America Africa, North America, Southeast Asia, and Australia. Even in areas where both alligators and crocodiles live, like the Everglades in Florida, it is rare that you would find them in the same soot. Alligators do not have effective salt glands, whereas crocodiles do.

The salt glands allow Crocodiles to process saltwater better, therefore they can tolerate salt in the water. Alligators prefer to live in freshwater or brackish water habitats because their salt glands are not as effective.

The snouts of a crocodile vs alligator are distinctly different
The snouts of a crocodile vs alligator are distinctly different.

2. Snout

The snouts of a crocodile vs alligator are distinctly different. An alligator has a shorter U-shaped snout whereas a crocodile has a longer and pointier V-shape snout. Other than the location, the shape of the snout is one of the easiest ways to identify a crocodile vs alligator. The snouts are very different, and it is easy to see.

It is believed the reason for the difference in snout shape between the crocodile and the alligator is attributed to their preferred diets. Alligators eat turtles and other wildlife. To eat turtles, the alligator must be able to crush a turtle’s shell. The broad snout and teeth shape allows the alligator to chomp down and crush a turtle shell.

On the other hand, Crocodiles eat a more varied diet and do not need a broad snout to crush their food.

Crocodile Teeth
Crocodile Teeth

3. Teeth

Not only do crocodiles have different shape snouts they have different shaped teeth. Both crocodiles and alligators have large scary-looking teeth, but they are very different in shape and size. Crocodiles have larger pointy teeth that are designed to rip things apart. Alligators have shorter and cone-shaped teeth.

These teeth are designed to crush things instead of ripping things apart. When a crocodile closes its jaw it looks like they are giving you a toothy evil grin. Their big sharp and pointy teeth interlock exposing their piercing glory. In particular, along the upper jaw, the fourth tooth on either side of the snout is longer than the other front teeth.

They are very prominent and definitely look like they can tear anything apart. Whereas when an alligator closes its jaw you cannot always see its teeth. The upper jaw of an alligator is larger than the lower jaw giving the alligator an overbite. The upper and lower jaw of a crocodile is about the same size, so the teeth are exposed.

Crocodile Color
Crocodile Color

4. Coloring

Crocodiles are lighter in color compared to alligators. The different species of crocodiles have a mixture of dark green colors with some browns. Alligators usually have a color of green that is closer to black. Each species has color variations depending on its habitat. According to David’s article, crocodiles have more of a speckled pattern as well.

The color variations help crocodiles and alligators blend into their environment for camouflage while they wait for prey or hide. The color variations of crocodiles and alligators depend on where they live. Both reptiles need to blend into their environments to hide from predators and unsuspecting prey.

Because crocodiles live mostly near the open waters of the sea, they usually are on the green side to blend in with the ocean and algae. Whereas alligators live in freshwater environments. Their coloring needs to blend in with the shorelines of muddy lakes and swamps.

5. Size

Though both alligators and crocodiles are similar in body shape, crocodiles are longer and heavier than alligators. On average, alligators usually range between six to twelve feet in length and can weigh between 500 to 700 pounds.

Crocodiles are much bigger and heavier. The average length for crocodiles ranges between twelve to seventeen feet and weighs around 1000 pounds. The largest saltwater crocodile recorded is twenty-three feet, Iona.

David believes that because of the similar body type and size, the slight difference in size between crocodiles vs alligators makes size comparison a more difficult way to differentiate between the two reptiles. Because looking along a shoreline covered with alligators or crocodiles, it is hard to know how long they really are.

6. Strength

It is believed if the two reptiles got into the boxing ring and had a face-off. the crocodile would win The reason for this is because crocodiles are heavier, larger, and their bite packs a fierce punch. According to David’s article, a crocodile’s bite strength is 3500 pounds per square inch.

An alligator’s bite strength is 2500 pounds per square inch, and its jaw is smaller. Both are fierce and dangerous animals, so it is not recommended to go against either one of them.

Alligators usually do not want to have anything to do with humans.
Alligators usually do not want to have anything to do with humans.

7. Temperament

Even though alligators and crocodiles are dangerous to humans, like a lot of wild animals, crocodiles and alligators are usually more afraid of humans than humans are afraid of them. However, crocodiles and alligators are known to have different temperaments. Alligators usually do not want to have anything to do with humans.

Unless they feel threatened or protecting their young, alligators would rather swim away than get in the middle of a confrontation. Crocodiles are known to attack without cause. In Africa, crocodile attacks on humans are common and usually fatal. According to an article on safarisafricana.com, the most dangerous species of crocodiles are saltwater crocodiles in Australia.

Next in line is the infamous Nile crocodile found in the Nile River that runs through Eastern Africa. Among all crocodile species. American crocodiles are the least aggressive species.

Both crocodiles and alligators have Dome Pressure Receptors
Both crocodiles and alligators have Dome Pressure Receptors

8. Dome Pressure Receptors

In David’s article, he states that both crocodiles and alligators have Dome Pressure Receptors. These sensors help crocodiles and alligators detect movement in the water. Human beings have five senses. They are taste, sight, touch, hearing, and smell. These five senses provide our brain with information that helps us survive.

Crocodiles and alligators have these senses as well, though it is not clear about their sense of taste. They also have Dome Pressure Receptors that allow them to detect movement in the water. These receptors are just as effective during the day and night.

In David’s article, he said the Dome Pressure Receptors are located on the skin of both crocodiles and alligators to detect water pressure while they swim. The difference is where they are located. Alligators have dome pressure receptors along the lower jaw. They appear as small black dots along the jawline.

On a crocodile, the dome pressure receptors are scattered all over their body and are translucent. They are not easily visible. Another name for Dome Pressure Receptors is Integumentary Sensory Organs (ISO). Because of these sensory organs, both crocodiles and alligators have a sense of touch that is far superior to all other animals.

9. Speed

When comparing the two species, Crocodiles are known for is brute strength and size, alligators are known for their speed. In David’s article, he mentions that an alligator can outrun and swim faster than a crocodile. Though both species are better equipped to move in water than on land, they can gather speed over a short distance.

According to David, alligators can run up to 30 miles per hour, whereas crocodiles can run up to 20 miles per hour. In either case, both crocodiles and alligators will catch up to humans on land and in water. While they are in the water, the speed of both alligators and crocodiles slows down.

Alligators can swim at a speed of 25 miles per hour, crocodiles can swim at a speed of 18 miles per hour. It is important to make sure that there is plenty of distance between yourself and these fierce reptiles.

10. Species

Both crocodiles and alligators are reptiles and belong to the same order named crocodilla. Also in the crocodile grouping are caimans and gharials. However, even though crocodiles and alligators are a member of the same order, they are not the same species nor the same family. Additionally, several other species belong to each family group.

Around the world, there are more crocodile species than there are alligator species. Crocodiles are members of the Crocodylidae family and there are fifteen different species in this family. They live all over the world in the waterways of Africa. Egypt, Australia, Southeast Asia, and the United States. The crocodile species found in the United States is the American crocodile.

Crocodylus acutus, as mentioned above, you will find these crocodiles along the southern shoreline of Florida including the Everglades. Alligators belong to the Alligatoridae family. Within this species, there are eight different species in this family. Also in this group, are five different caiman species.

There may be more crocodile species in this world, but in the United States, there are substantially more alligators than crocodiles. According to an article on livescience.com, there are three million alligators in the United States compared to 2,000 crocodiles living in the United States.

The American Alligator, Alligator Mississipiensis, and the American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus, are the only two crocodile species living in the United States.

Quick Review

  1. Crocodiles and alligators live in different locations and habitats.
  2. Alligators have a U-shaped snout and crocodiles have a long V-shaped snout.
  3. Crocodiles have longer and pointer teeth that you can see when their jaw is closed.
  4. Alligators have a darker almost black coloring and crocodiles have a greenish-brown coloring.
  5. Crocodiles are larger and heavier than alligators with a four to a five-foot difference in length between the two species.
  6. Crocodiles are stronger than alligators with a bite that measures 3500 pounds per square inch.
  7. Alligators are more likely to swim away when it sees a human. Crocodiles are cranky and have been known to strike when unprovoked.
  8. Alligators have Dome Pressure Dots along their lower jaw that look like black spots. Crocodiles have translucent Dome Pressure Dots all over their body.
  9. Alligators can outrun and swim faster than crocodiles.
  10. Crocodiles and Alligators are in the crocodilla order, but they are not the same family. They belong to two different species. Crocodiles belong to the Crocodylidae family and alligators belong to the Alligatoridae family.

Fun Fact: Crocodiles are older than Alligators

It is known that both crocodiles and alligators have lived on this planet for eons. Both species have ancestors that lived during the age of dinosaurs. The Crocodylidae family tree goes back to around 240 million years ago. Just for comparison, dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago.

According to David’s article, if you study fossils, crocodiles are older than alligators. Both ancestors of alligators and crocodiles lived during the Cretaceous Period. However, there is evidence that crocodiles have relatives that date back as far as the Jurassic Period.

The name of this crocodile ancestor is Thalattosuchia. According to Wikipedia, Thalattosuchia is communally referred to as a marine crocodile. Brachchampsa is a relative to alligators and lived during the Cretaceous period that started around 145 million years ago.

Imagine these ancestors of crocodiles and alligators living 240 million years ago with dinosaurs. They survived the disruption and chaos that caused the dinosaurs to become extinct. It is amazing to think about these creatures living on this planet for millions of years.

Crocodile vs Alligator

The easiest way to determine the difference between a crocodile vs alligator is by knowing your location, especially in the United States. Alligators typically live in freshwater habitats in China and Southeastern United States. You can find crocodiles around the world in places like Southeast Asia. Australia. North America. South America, and Africa.

They prefer the swampy slow-moving water and open waters. Plus crocodiles can tolerate saltwater. The fastest way to tell the difference between a crocodile vs alligator is to look at the shape of the snout. Then notice if you can see their teeth. Alligators have a stubbier snout that has a broader U-shape.

Because of its overbite when alligators close their jaws, the teeth are usually not visible. Crocodiles have a longer and thinner V-shape snout. When their jaw is closed, you will see the pointy interlocking teeth giving you a sly grin. If you see the reptile sunbathing with its mouth wide open, a crocodile’s teeth are longer and pointier than those of an alligator.

Other distinct characteristics are differences in color and size. Alligators are darker than crocodiles with a greenish grayish-black tone. Crocodiles tend to be greener and lighter with more variation in color. Both the crocodile and alligator colors help them blend into their habitat.

Crocodiles are larger and heavier than alligators. On average, the crocodile’s size difference is about four to five feet longer than the alligator.

The easiest way to know the difference between a crocodile and an alligator is: When in doubt, check out the snout.

If you have any questions, we would love to hear from you. What fun facts do you know about alligators or crocodiles? Please place your questions in the comment section below.

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