Alligator VS Crocodile



Modified: 31 May 2023

Did you know that alligators and crocodiles are two different species? Yes, you heard it right. These predatory and semiaquatic reptiles are part of the Crocodylian family. Divided into 3 families, there are at least 24 species of crocodilians. These are the Alligatoridae, Crocodylidae, and Gavialidae. A bit of a tongue twister, right? It might be confusing to identify which one is an alligator and which one is a crocodile. Read on to find out the difference between an alligator vs. a crocodile, and discover facts about these large predators.

The Short Answer To The Difference Between Alligator And Crocodile

You can identify an alligator vs. a crocodile by looking at their snouts. Not only that, but they also differ in location, habitat, size, color, speed, and behavior. There may be other differences between the two. But, in this list, you will find some of their distinct qualities to help you identify them.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Physical Appearance

Alligator vs. crocodiles’ most obvious difference comes from their physical appearance. They not only differ in the shape of their snouts but also their jaw and body sizes. The difference in the crocodile and alligator’s snout shapes just means the strength coming from their mouths. It comes in handy when they crack open vertebrates with hard shells like turtles.

Alligator vs Crocodile Physical Appearance

How to identify an alligator

Alligators have long, rounded snouts that have upward-facing nostrils at the end. This allows them to breathe while the rest of their body is underwater. They also have four short legs with the front legs having five toes while the back legs only have four toes.

Both sexes have an armored body with a muscular, flat tail. The skin on their back is also embedded with bony plates called osteoderms. Yellow stripes appear on young alligator’s tails, while adults have dark stripes. It’s also easy to identify the teeth of an alligator vs. a crocodile.

In alligators, their lower teeth are not visible when they close their mouths. Whereas in crocodiles, the large fourth tooth in the bottom jaw appears. Also, mature alligators have 80 teeth in their mouth at a time. Replacing the teeth as they lost them, alligators may go through 3,000 teeth in their lifetime.

Alligator with closed mouth, alligator vs crocodile
Image from Adobe Stock

Female alligators are smaller than male alligators. The average adult size of a male alligator is 11.2 feet, while the average female adult size is 8.2 feet. Both sexes also do not reach extreme weights. A mature female is about 91 kilograms, while a mature male weighs up to 360 kilograms.

How to identify a crocodile

Crocodiles have long, pointed, V-shaped snouts compared to alligators. It’s also not that difficult to tell the difference between an alligator and a crocodile from a distance. You only need to look at the shape of their snout and the visibility of their teeth. Crocodiles create a toothy grin as they close their mouth due to the same size of their upper and lower jaws.

A close-up of crocodile head and its sharp teeth, alligator vs crocodile
Image from Adobe Stock

They also have powerful jaws with many teeth. Crocodiles have large, broad bodies, short legs, clawed webbed toes, and muscular tails. Also, their eyes, ears, and nostrils are on the top of their head. This allows them to see even if they submerge their bodies in the water while hunting. Crocodile tails are long and massive, and their skin is thick and plated like alligators’.

On one hand, large male crocodiles can get up to 19 feet and can weigh up to 1,000 kilograms. On other hand, large female crocodiles grow up to 11 feet and can weigh around 200 kilograms. The biggest recorded crocodiles are the Saltwater crocodiles. Next on the list would be Nile crocodiles weighing up to 750 kilograms. And the last one would be the American crocodiles with a weight of at least 750 kilograms.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Behaviors and Habits

They say crocodiles are more aggressive than that of an alligator. Alligators attack only when provoked. Yet, crocodiles attack because something or someone is near them. These predators are both diurnal and nocturnal animals. Meaning, they are active both night and day. Both are also excellent night hunters. They have vertical pupils that open wide in low light and allow them to see their prey.

Crocodile eyes
Image from Adobe Stock

Both also spend most of their time in the water. But alligators love to spend time under the sun as well. With their speed, alligators run up to 32 kilometers per hour on land. As for Nile crocodiles, their speed also reaches up to 35 kilometers per hour. Even when they’re submerged in water, they can hold their breath for up to one hour.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Habitat

Crocodiles and alligators both exist in freshwater and saltwater. Alligators prefer freshwater. They live in rivers, marshes, swamps, and lakes. They do not have salt glands, thus unable to tolerate saltwater for longer periods. Although crocodiles also live near rivers, lakes, and wetlands, they can also go out at sea.

Alligator in water
Image from Adobe Stock

They’re found in Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and eastern India. American alligators thrive in Florida and Louisiana, southeast of the United States. They are also found in southern parts of Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia.

Both semi-aquatic predators have impressive lifespans. Alligators can live up to 50 years, whereas crocodiles can live up to 70 years. However, some claim to have exceeded 100 years. It said that a male crocodile lived to an estimated age of 110 to 115 years in a Russian zoo in Yekaterinburg.

The oldest known living alligator is Muja. He is an American alligator that is over 83 years old. No one knows when exactly Muja was born, but they said it was sometime before 1937. He is at the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Diet

Crocodiles and alligators are both carnivores, which means they only eat meat. Their diet consists of fish, frogs, birds, and even turtles. Zoo crocodiles eat animals that were already killed for them, like mice, fish, or rats. In the wild, crocodiles and alligators will ambush their prey and drag it into the water until they drown. Crocodiles have a bite force of 3,700 PSI while alligators have 2,980 PSI.

Both will crush their prey with their massive jaws and swallow it whole. These predators cannot chew their prey to small pieces of food like other animals. Though alligators only eat meat, some say they will also munch on fruits.

Crocodile eats a wildebeest in the Mara river.
Image from Adobe Stock

There are reports saying crocodiles prey on people. Two well-known species have this reputation, the Nile crocodiles and the saltwater crocodiles. Hundreds of deadly attacks attributed to the Nile crocodile occur in Sub-Saharan Africa. Whereas attacks by saltwater crocodiles usually occur in Southeast Asia and Australia.

Alligators were also reported to have been attacking humans. There were reports of small children and elderly people attacked by these reptiles. Despite these reports, alligators rarely prey on humans compared to crocodiles.

Relationship Between Alligators And Crocodiles

Alligators come from the Alligatordae family, while crocodiles are from the Crocodylidae family. Although they look similar, alligators and crocodiles cannot mate. Both species are too different. But these predators both mate almost the same way. Crocodiles and alligators mate by first doing vocalizations, head-slapping, and wrestling for hours. Like other animals, alligators use scent as well by releasing an odor from their musk glands.

Crocodiles and alligators mate underwater. People rarely observe this behavior since such activities happen while they’re submerged. The mating process usually lasts several minutes. But, a pair may mate several times in one season to ensure fertilization. Female crocodiles and alligators usually lay eggs four to six weeks after mating. The mothers lay about 60 eggs inside the nest they made and cover them before returning to the water. The eggs take about 3 months to hatch.

The sex of the hatchlings will base on the temperature inside the nest. If the temperature is between 32 and 33 degrees Celsius, the hatchlings will be male. But, if the temperature is less than 32 degrees Celsius, the hatchlings will be female. Both male crocodiles and alligators mate with as many females as possible. Despite that fact, monogamous pairings for American alligators suggest otherwise.

Now that you know the difference, you can then spot the alligators vs. crocodiles. There may be distinctions between the two, yet both are amazing animals. If you want to see both creatures in the wild, South Florida is the only place where you can find them coexisting.