Alligator vs. Crocodile: Facts That Set the Record Straight
People often confuse crocodiles and alligators, lumping the species together in the same family of reptiles. Although they share many similarities, there are several differences between alligators and crocodiles — in their appearance, behavior and habitat.
Interestingly, alligators and crocodiles have remained relatively unchanged for the last 55 million years, with early ancestors first appearing 200 million years ago. Both are cold-blooded reptiles unable to regulate their internal body temperatures and must rely on external sources such as the sun for warmth. They have tough, scaly hides and are fast swimmers that live in either the wetlands or along the coasts. They also share the same aquatic diet of mostly fish and mollusks, and both prefer to eat prey that can be consumed in two bites.
Despite these similarities, there are plenty of differences between the two reptiles that need to be considered when studying them. So which one would win in an alligator vs. crocodile matchup? Here are 50 facts that set the record straight.
Crocodiles and alligators belong to the same order of Crocodilia.
However, they do not belong to the same family. Crocs are in the family of Crocodylidae, which contains 13 different species.
Gators, however, belong to Alligatoridae, a family that only includes two species of alligator and five of Caimans.
Crocs are older than gators.
Some crocodiles are traceable to 70 million years and beyond.
Their ancestors were around during the Jurassic period as aquatic crocodiles that lived about 200 million years ago.
The life expectancy of the saltwater crocodile is 70 years.
The oldest one on record in captivity is 117 years old.
Alligators live for about 50 years in the wild. The oldest American alligator in captivity is Muja, an 80-year-old gator in the Belgrade Zoo in Serbia.
Although both reptiles are known for living in water areas, they have different habitats.
For example, alligators live in freshwater areas such as swamplands and lakes, and the American gator can be found in east Texas all the way across the U.S. to North Carolina.
Crocodiles prefer saltwater, and most reside in the coastal regions of southern Florida.
One of the most significant differences between crocodiles and alligators is their snout.
Gators have rounded, U-shaped snouts, while the croc has a triangular, V-shaped nose. Alligators are also smaller and have dark green or black spots that help them blend in with the muddy areas.
Crocodiles are light green, brown or light grey and have white and yellow bellies to help camouflage them while hunting underwater.
The crocodile is larger than the alligator.
Alligators are roughly 14-feet long and weigh 500 to 1,000 pounds. Males are longer than females, averaging 12 to 13 feet and 1,000 pounds; female gators average 8 to 10 feet and weigh 500 to 700 pounds.
The crocodile is even bigger at 15- to 27-feet long and weighs 800 more than 1,000 pounds. Several American crocodiles have been recorded at 23-feet long.
A crocodile's teeth are always visible.
That’s even the case when their mouth is shut.
However, the alligator's teeth are not visible unless they open their mouth to reveal the top teeth.
The crocodile's jaw closes the top-down instead of bottom-up.
They have an overbite and underbite exposing upper and lower teeth.
The alligator jaw closes downward so that only the top teeth are visible. In addition, there are notches in their bottom jaw that hide the bottom teeth when their mouth is firmly shut.
The bite strength of a crocodile is more substantial than a gator's.
Crocs have pointed teeth designed to tear food. Their bite strength is roughly 3,500 to 3,700 pounds per square inch (psi) compared to the alligator's 2,500 to 2,900 psi.
Plus, the alligator's teeth are cone-shaped and designed to crush rather than shred. So, if the two were to fight, the crocodile would most likely win.
Alligators are not as dangerous as crocodiles.
In fact, alligators tend to run away from humans when they get too close.
On the other hand, crocs are far more aggressive and will attack anyone or anything that appears threatening to them.
Temperature is the main reason crocodiles and alligators live in different habitats.
Although both reptiles are cold-blooded, the crocodile needs warmer temperatures to survive (between 85 and 98 degrees Fahrenheit), which explains why the species is primarily found in tropical areas like South Florida.
Conversely, gators can easily survive cooler temps, allowing them a wider range of places to live across the U.S.
The only place you will see crocodiles and alligators living in close proximity to each other is in the southernmost tip of Florida.
But the gator's habitat will only be in the marsh, lake and river areas of the state.
Crocs prefer the open saltwater areas of Florida.
American alligators reach sexual maturity a bit earlier than the crocodile.
Once an American alligator is about 6-feet long and around 8 to 12 years old, they’ve reached sexual maturity; however, females take more like 10 to 15 years to mature.
For the female crocodile, it's about the same (ages 10 to 12) with a body length of 5 to 10 feet. The males, however, do not reach sexual maturity until they are 16 years old.
Breeding time for alligators and crocodiles is quite different.
For alligators it’s usually between May and June.
The mating season for crocodiles occurs from late February to March.
An alligator's incubation time is roughly 63 to 68 days.
That means hatching occurs in mid-August through early September. The average clutch size of an alligator nest is 38 eggs, but some females lay up to 90!
Unfortunately, about a third of alligator nests are destroyed by hungry predators such as raccoons that eat the eggs.
A female crocodile lays a clutch of 20 to 60 eggs.
These incubate longer than the alligator’s eggs — about 80 to 90 days.
Babies are born about 12 inches long and stay by their mothers for the first two years of life.
Both alligators and crocodiles are more active at night.
Alligators feed mostly at night and sleep off and on during the day. They're especially fond of sunbathing on warm rocks while they doze.
Similarly, crocodiles also sleep intermittently throughout the day and hunt for prey at night.
Crocodiles have no predators other than humans.
Their hatchlings, however, are eaten by various wildlife such as birds, raccoons, hogs, bears and crabs.
The jaguar is the only wildcat strong enough to take down an adult crocodile. It's the same for alligators, except for otters, which can also kill gators.
There is a higher percentage of annual crocodile attacks on humans compared to the number of alligator attacks.
Several hundred cases of croc attacks are reported each (higher than the number of shark attacks) and are most common in Australia.
The alligator only makes up 6 percent of all reported crocodilian attacks.
Baby hippos have been known to play with crocodiles by chewing on their spines.
They basically use the reptile as a chew toy.
Surprisingly, this behavior does not cause serious harm to the croc and is more of an annoyance to them than anything else.
Both reptiles have dome pressure receptors that help regulate water pressure.
These special sensory receptors also enable them to detect movement in the water while searching for prey.
An alligator's dome pressure receptors appear as black spots on the snout. In contrast, the crocodiles are translucent and all over the body.
Unlike the alligator, the crocodile also has salt glands on its tongue.
This allows them to help regulate osmotic pressure in high salinity areas of the alligator’s habitat.
Alligators are faster than crocodiles on land and in water.
They can hit speeds of 30 miles per hour, while the crocodile reaches 20 miles per hour (and only for short distances).
Gators swim faster as well, roughly 25 miles per hour, versus the croc's speed at 18 miles per hour.
Alligators can tolerate cooler temperatures over crocodiles due to their ability to temporarily shut down.
This process, known as brumation, is similar to an animal's hibernation period (except the gator remains fully aware of its surroundings). As a result, their metabolism slows down, allowing them to undergo dormancy for four to five months during the winter.
The gator survives by keeping its snout above the level of freezing water.
Crocodiles also go dormant during the winter.
But they mostly hibernate during the drought season.
They do this by digging a burrow in the side of a lake or river bank where they sleep for long periods at a time.
Alligators can stay underwater for longer periods of time than crocodiles.
On average, crocodiles will stay underwater for 10 to 15 minutes. If they feel threatened, they may remain under for 30 minutes or more. However, if it's necessary to stay longer, they can survive up to two hours underwater.
The alligator, however, averages 20 to 30 minutes underwater but has the capability of staying under for 24 hours if needed.
Crocodiles and alligators have very different tongues.
The gator's tongue sits differently in their mouth, enabling them to stick it out.
A croc cannot do this due to a membrane that holds the tongue in place on the roof of its mouth.
Sadly, 100,000-plus crocodiles are killed each year illegally.
This is done for the black market industry despite being considered a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act.
In Florida alone, roughly 6,000 alligators are killed during the 11-week hunting season.
Hunting is only legal with appropriate licenses and tags.
The season runs from August to November.
They both look terrifying.
But despite how scary crocodiles and alligators look, it's important to remember that they are more frightened of us than we are of them.
The shape of a crocodile snout is different than that of an alligator.
While alligators have rounded, u-shaped snouts, crocodiles have longer, v-shaped snouts. The different design gives alligators an advantage when it comes to bite strength.
Alligator hatchlings have a special tooth to escape the egg.
Baby alligators, also called hatchlings, would be stuck inside their egg if they didn't have a unique egg tooth to peck their way out of the shell. It's called a caruncle, and it often falls out shortly after the alligator hatches.
Alligators can make sounds from inside the egg.
Baby alligators often make whimpering noises prior to hatching. They continue their high-pitched crying after birth to call their mother back to the nest.
Wouldn't it be strange if human babies could begin crying before birth?
Male alligators can continue growing for life.
Female alligators typically hit their maximum length and weight by about age 10. Male alligators, however, can continue growing slowly well into adulthood.
Baby alligators and crocodiles are roughly the same weight.
At birth, both crocodiles and alligators are around 10-12 inches long, give or take a couple of inches. They both typically weigh between 50-75 grams.
When alligators' teeth wear down, they simply replace them.
Alligators can regenerate lost teeth dozens of times. A single alligator can cycle through up to 3,000 teeth during their lifetime.
This unique ability is currently being studied by medical researchers to identify whether or not it's possible to trigger a similar process in humans, allowing us to replace decayed teeth with healthy ones.
Crocodiles don't sweat.
Ever seen a crocodile with it's mouth held open? As threatening as this posture may appear, the croc was probably just trying to keep cool.
Since crocodiles can't sweat, they open their mouths to cool off, much like how dogs pant in hot weather.
Crocodiles have incredibly strong jaws.
When a human bites down, they produce about 100 pounds of pressure per square inch. A crocodile, on the other hand, can bite with a force of 5,000 pounds of pressure.
Zookeepers are braver than we realized, considering the crocodiles they handle could easily bite through an arm or leg in one fell munch.
The smallest crocodile is almost small enough to keep as a pet. Almost.
The dwarf caiman, a type of crocodile, reaches about 5.2 feet in length, with females rarely topping four feet. Since they seldom exceed 15 pounds, they're the most common extant species kept as pets.
For most people, however, keeping any crocodilian as a pet is a terrible idea.
The sex of crocodiles and alligators is determined by the temperature of their eggs.
If the temperature of the nest is under 87.8 degrees Fahrenheit, the babies will mostly be born female. Above 89.6 degrees will produce mostly males.
Alligators and crocodiles don't hibernate, exactly.
While cold-blooded creatures don't go into hibernation like bears do, they do enter a similar state called aestivation.
Since they can't regulate their own temperature, they conserve energy by going into a period of prolonged sleep until warmer weather arrives.
To stay warm during their long sleep, alligators dig tunnels.
When the weather gets too cold for a gator's comfot, they carve out a "gator hole" in the mud. It fills with water, providing insulation during times of extreme cold or heat.
These tunnels can reach lengths of up to 65 feet, and other animals often use them as burrows after the gators move on.
Neither alligators nor crocodiles can chew.
It's true. As powerful as their jaws may be, they're incapable of moving their lower jaw from side to side, making the motion of chewing impossible.
Instead, they rip their prey into pieces small enough to swallow. They also swallow small rocks to help break down food within their digestive tract.
Both alligators and crocodiles cry.
There's some truth to the term "crocodile tears," which is used to describe feigned sorrow. It came from the observation that crocodiles and alligators often shed tears while they're eating their prey, even though they're not actually sad.
The observation is accurate, but the reason for crocodile tears isn't emotional at all. The feeding process forces air into the sinuses, causing the production of tears.
Alligators sleep, but very lightly.
There's no sneaking past a snoozing alligator. Neither crocs nor gators enter REM sleep like people do.
They both love to doze in the sun, but they're programmed to wake up and snap at anyone or anything that passes by. Wouldn't want to miss a meal.
Alligators and dogs don't mix.
Alligators and crocs are both ambush predators. In Florida, the only place where both giant reptiles are commonly found, allowing your dog to play near or in the water is a bad plan.
Plenty of dogs get taken out by gators each year, even large ones, so be extra cautious if you bring Fido along on summer vacation.
Alligators and crocodiles can be identified by their color.
Alligators are typically darker in color, leaning toward dark gray or black, while crocodiles are more of a light, olive green color.
Both Gator and Crocodile Meat Is Considered a Delicacy
Visitors to Southern states where alligators are commonly found might be surprised to see gator listed on the menu at popular eateries. It's a very common (and tasty) dish, and some consider crocodile meat to be a superfood.
Albinism is very rare in crocodiles.
Albino alligators exist, but very few exist in the wild. It's estimated that no more than 100 exist at all. This is for a few reasons.
First, both parents have to carry the recessive albinism gene in order for a baby alligator or croc to exhibit the trait. Second, reptiles need heat to survive, and having colorless skin results in burns and other skin conditions.
Albino alligators usually don't survive long in the wild.
Poor nutrition can stunt an alligator's growth.
Alligators should never be kept as pets, but that hasn't stopped people from trying. Before laws regulating the exotic pet trade were enforced, keeping large reptiles was more common than you'd think. They would often end up smaller than normal due to improper husbandry.
One exotic animal expert with a popular YouTube channel has a rescued pet American alligator who was kept in a four-foot enclosure for 27 years. The animal is too dependent on humans to release into the wild, so she cares for the stunted gator at her exotic animal zoo in Minnesota.