Crocodylus acutus Photo Fiona Sunquist ©
Alligators and crocodiles can be quite difficult to tell apart. In general the snouts of alligators tend to be broad and rounded, whereas those of crocodiles are longer and more pointed. The American crocodile is similar in appearance to the American alligator but the crocodile is usually grayish brown rather than black. It has a narrower snout in which the fourth tooth of the upper jaw is visible even when the mouth is closed. Crocodiles often bask with their mouths open, a behavior rarely seen in alligators.
South Florida is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles live in the same area. The American crocodile is restricted to a small population at the extreme southern tip of Florida. They were once found from Lake Worth to Florida Bay. Most now nest in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge in Key Largo, in the Everglades and on the earthen dividing berms of the cooling canals of the FPL Turkey Point Plant.
American crocodiles are found in coastal swamps and rivers, primarily in quiet mangrove swamps, but occasionally a few miles inland. The American crocodile is considered THREATENED throughout its range and it is on Appendix I of CITES.
In Florida, almost all crocodiles nest in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife refuge on Key Largo in the Everglades. Females dig holes in the sand and lay 20-50 eggs, which incubate for three months. Females may help the young out of the nest by cracking the eggshells, but there is little parental care compared with the alligator.
Thirty years ago the crocodile population in South Florida was less than 400 individuals – now the number has increased to 1,400.
Now that the species is no longer hunted, the greatest cause of adult mortality is being hit by a car. Females looking for nest sites are often hit by cars, especially on Key Largo in the Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
American crocodiles can grow up to 13 feet (4 m) and 500 pounds (230 kg), and live for 60 years.
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