In a few hours, we got sight of him, out on the bank in a saw-grass wallow. He was a monster for size—a perfect whale of a saurian, gray in color—and by all the powers, he was a genuine crocodile!William T. Hornaday, 1875
The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a species of crocodilian found in the Neotropics. It is the most widespread of the four extant species of crocodiles from the Americas, with populations present from South Florida and the coasts of Mexico to as far south as Peru and Venezuela.
The habitat of the American crocodile consists largely of coastal areas. It is also found in river systems, but tends to prefer salinity, resulting in the species congregating in brackish lakes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, cays, and small islands.
Other crocodiles also have tolerance to saltwater due to salt glands underneath the tongue, but the American crocodile is the only species other than the saltwater crocodile to commonly live and thrive in saltwater.
The American is one of the larger crocodile species. Males can reach lengths of 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in), weighing up to 907 kg (2,000 lb). On average, mature males are more in the range of 2.9 to 4.1 m (9 ft 6 in to 13 ft 5 in) in length weighing up to about 400 kg (880 lb). As with other crocodile species, females are smaller; rarely exceeding 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in) in length even in the largest-bodied population.
Like any other large crocodilian, the American crocodile is potentially dangerous to humans, although it tends not to be as aggressive as some other species.
Information & Facts:
The American Crocodile, like all true crocodilians, is a quadruped, with four short, stocky legs; a long, powerful tail; and a scaly hide with rows of ossified scutes running down its back and tail. Its snout is elongated and includes a strong pair of jaws. Its eyes have nictitating membranes for protection along with lacrimal glands, which produce tears.
The nostrils, eyes, and ears are situated on the top of its head, so the rest of the body can be concealed underwater for surprise attacks. Camouflage also helps it prey on food. The snout is longer and narrower than that of the American alligator, but broader on average than that of the Orinoco crocodile. American crocodiles are also paler and more grayish than the relatively dark-hued American alligator. This crocodile species normally crawls on its belly, but it can also “high walk”. Larger specimens can charge up to nearly 10 mph (16 km/h). They can swim at as much as 20 mph (32 km/h) by moving their bodies and tails in a sinuous fashion, but they cannot sustain this speed.
Adults have a uniform grayish-green coloration with white or yellow undersides, while juveniles have dark cross-banding on the tail and back. Despite their large size, American crocodiles do not regularly attack large animals, as most large crocodilians do. Fish, reptiles, birds and small mammals make up the majority of their diet. On occasion, large mammals such as deer and cattle are taken. Their dietary habits in coastal regions are not well studied.
American Crocodiles are apex predators, and any aquatic or terrestrial animal they encounter in freshwater, riparian and coastal saltwater habitats is potential prey.
The snout of the American crocodile is broader than some specialized fish-eating crocodilians (e.g., gharials and freshwater crocodiles), allowing it to supplement its diet with a wider variety of prey. In addition the snout gets even broader and bulkier as the animal matures, a sign for a shift in prey items.
Prey species have ranged in size from the insects taken by young American crocodiles to full-grown cattle taken by large adults, and can include various birds, mammals, turtles, crabs, snails, frogs, and occasionally carrion.
Immature and subadult American crocodiles have a more diverse diet that can include insects, fish, frogs, small turtles, birds and small mammals.
The American Crocodile inhabits waters such as mangrove swamps, river mouths, fresh waters, and salt lakes, and can even be found at sea, hence its wide distribution throughout the Caribbean islands, southern Florida, the Greater Antilles, southern Mexico, Central America, and the South American countries of Colombia and Ecuador. The American crocodile is especially plentiful in Costa Rica.
The American crocodile’s saline tolerance also allowed it to colonize limited portions of the United States (extreme southern Florida). Contrary to popular misinformation, the presence of the American alligator is not the reason the American crocodile was unable to populate brackish waters north of Florida, but rather the climate. Within the United States, the American crocodile’s distribution is generally limited to the southern tip of Florida, though at least two have been found as far north as the Tampa Bay area.
The current US population, estimated at 2,000, represents a significant recovery from a few hundred in the 1970s.
American crocodiles, unlike American alligators, are extremely susceptible to cold temperatures and live exclusively within tropical waters.
American Crocodiles breed in late fall or early winter, engaging in drawn-out mating ceremonies in which males emit low-frequency bellows to attract females. Body size is more important than age in determining reproductive capabilities, and females reach sexual maturity at a length of about 2.8 m (9.2 ft).
In February or March, gravid females will begin to create nests of sand, mud, and dead vegetation along the water’s edge. Nest location is crucial, and with the correct amount of vegetation, the eggs will develop within a small temperature range. Because sex determination is temperature-dependent in crocodilians, slight aberrations in temperature may result in all-male or all-female clutches, which would possibly harm the health of the population. About one month later, when it is time to lay, the female will dig a wide hole diagonally into the side of the nest and lay 30 to 70 eggs in it, depending on her size. After laying, the female may cover the eggs with debris or leave them uncovered. The white, elongated eggs are 8 cm (3.1 in) long and 5 cm (2.0 in) wide and have a number of pores in the brittle shell.
During the 75- to 80-day incubation period, the parents will guard the nest, often inhabiting a hole in the bank nearby. Females especially have been known to guard their nests with ferocity. But in spite of these precautions, American crocodile eggs sometimes fall prey to raccoons, coatis, foxes, skunks or other scavenging mammals (including coyotes in Mexico and American black bears in southern Florida), as well as large predatory ants, crabs and vultures.
Crocodilian eggs are somewhat brittle, but softer than bird eggs. Young of this species hatch after 75–80 days.
The young hatch near the time of the first rains of the summer (July–August), after the preceding dry season and before the bodies of water where they live flood. During the hatching process, when the young American crocodiles are most vulnerable to predation, they will instinctively call out in soft, grunt-like croaks. These sounds trigger the female to attend to the nest, uncovering the eggs if they have been covered. Then she will aid the hatchlings in escaping their eggs and scoop them up with her mouth, carrying them to the closest water source.