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Alligator vs Crocodile: What’s the Difference Between These Two Reptiles?

Alligator vs Crocodile: What’s the Difference Between These Two Reptiles?

Summary:

Ever wondered what is the difference between an alligator vs crocodile? From teeth to habitat to size, we give you all the croc vs gator answers here.

Q: What do you call an alligator in a vest?
A: An Investigator

Ba-dum tss… 

What does that dad joke have to do with anything? Well, today we’re going to investigate the differences between the alligator vs crocodile!

Alligator vs Crocodile

In some cases, it might be vitally important to know the difference between the crocodile and alligator. For example, if one of those creatures is chasing you. To your relief, it is pretty easy to distinguish a gator from a croc, as there are few key differences.

Teeth

gator vs croc teeth are outside on a crocodile
This is a brown saltwater crocodile. In the gator vs croc differences, a crocodile’s teeth will be on the outside when their mouths are closed. Taken by J. Zikán via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

While an alligator can mostly hide its teeth when its mouth is closed, a crocodile has most of its teeth exposed. Really, it makes it look like an insidious smile. That happens because the upper and lower jaw of the crocodile are the same in size, unlike the gator’s.

The alligator has little pockets in its upper jaw which the lower teeth fit into when its mouth closes. On the crocodile, one of the most noticeable differences is that the big fourth tooth protrudes out far.

Fun Fact: Those teeth in a saltwater crocodile are located along the strongest jaws on Earth. A 2012 experiment found one member of this species to clamp down with a jaw-dropping 3,700 pounds per square inch of force (16,460 newtons). A scientific guess says this actually rivals the bite force of a T Rex!

Head Shape

If you get a chance to closely look at these two reptiles, you can see that an alligator has a wide, rounded, U-shaped snout, while a crocodile’s snout is sharper and rather reminds one of a letter V. Also, crocodiles have wider, shorter heads than their alligator counterparts.

Natural Habitat

Crocodile species prefer to live in salty water, as they tolerate it much better, as well as in tropical climates, as they are quite sensitive to cold temperatures. Alligators, on the other hand, mostly reside in freshwater habitats.

Fun Fact: The Everglades National Park in Florida, home of those notorious Floridian swamps, is the only place where both crocodiles and alligators live naturally in the same habitat! Why? Those Florida Everglade swamps are perfect for both critters, as it’s a mixing point of the freshwater from the Florida Bay and the saltwater from the Gulf of Mexico.

Territory

The remaining alligators, of which there are two species, can be found only in China and in the US. The American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis) is found in the southeastern United States, anywhere from Texas over and up to North Carolina. When you think of a Florida alligator, you’re thinking of the American alligator.

The Chinese alligator (Alligator sinensis) is endemic to eastern China. The Chinese alligator has been called the muddy dragon and also as the Yangtze alligator, as it inhabits the Yangtze River Valley and the surrounding area. Some researchers believe the Chinese alligator may be the inspiration behind the dragon in Chinese folklore and mythology. It is extremely endangered, and nowadays there are more found in zoos around the world than in the wild.

Related Read: Oriental vs Asian vs Eastern: What’s the Difference?

Unlike alligators, crocodiles are spread far and wide, in Africa, Australia, North America, South America, the Caribbean, and Asia. They’re found all over the world, from the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) in southern Florida and the Caribbean to the Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni) of northern Australia to the Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) of sub-saharan Africa.

There are 16 crocodile species (some say 23) surviving today, and some of the others include the Hall’s New Guinea crocodile, the Orinoco crocodile, the Philippine crocodile, Morelet’s crocodile, the Mugger crocodile, the Borneo crocodile, the West African crocodile, and the Central African slender-snouted crocodile.

Fun Fact: Louisiana, not Florida, has the largest alligator population in the United States, according to the Scholastic Book of World Records (2005 edition).

Size

Crocodiles are usually longer and bigger than alligators, but this is an oversimplification, as there are 16 extant crocodile species and 2 alligator species.

As far as crocodiles, the dwarf crocodile is the smallest, growing to a human-sized length of between 4.9 to 6.2 ft (1.5-1.9 m). On the other end of the spectrum is the saltwater crocodile, which can grow to over 7 meters long (23 feet)!

Alligators fall somewhere in between, when it comes to length. American alligators can grow as long as 14 ft (4.4 m), while Chinese alligators reach around 7 ft (2.1 m).

Fun Fact: Another difference between these reptiles is the collective nouns we humans use while talking about each group of animals: a group of crocodiles is called a bask; a group of alligators is called a congregation.

Color

Alligators are usually darker than regular crocodiles, with dark skin of olive brown, brown, or black coloring and white or yellow bellies. Crocodiles, depending on the species, are often tan, light brown, bronze, yellow, gray, or green.

Related Read: Tempeh vs Tofu vs Seitan vs Nattō: What’s the Difference?

Behavior

alligator vs crocodile
There are moments when crocodiles and alligators appear almost cute. Taken by A. Kipp via unsplash.com. [Public Domain].

If you meet a crocodile out in the wild, they are much more aggressive than alligators, generally speaking. Among the most aggressive are the Nile crocodile and the Cuban crocodile, but the saltwater crocodile is the most aggressive of all (which is just great because it’s also the largest).

Fun (slightly confusing) fact: Crocodiles and alligators both belong to the same scientific classification order, Crocodilia. However, they are separated in two different families, Crocodylidae and Alligatoridae (which also includes caimans). The order Crocodilia, which includes gators, crocs, caimans, and gharials, is the closest living relative of birds.

Related Read: Myanmar vs Burma: Which Country Name is Correct and Acceptable?

More Crocodile vs Alligator FAQs

We gave you some fun alligator vs crocodile facts, and now it’s time for a few more fun FAQs on the differences between alligators and crocodiles 🙂

How fast can an alligator run?

An alligator can run at speeds of up to 11 mph (17.7 km/h).

How fast can a crocodile run?

A crocodile can run at speeds of up to 8.5 mph (14 km/h).

How fast can an alligator swim?

An alligator can swim at speeds of up to 20 mph (32 km/h).

How fast can a crocodile swim?

A crocodile can swim at speeds of up to 18 mph (29 km/h).

How long do alligators live?

Alligators generally live around 30–50 years long.

How long do crocodiles live?

Crocodiles usually live about 70–100 years long.

How long do alligators get?

Alligators can grow up to 14 ft (4.2 m) in length.

How long can crocodiles get?

Saltwater crocodiles can grow up to 23 ft (7 m) in length.

Well, that’s our post on the differences between crocodiles vs alligators, and we hope you found it useful, informative, and easy to understand! Hopefully, now it will be easy for you to tell the difference between crocodile vs alligator. Let us know if there are any more differences you spotted yourself?

Mariia Kislitsyna
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Mariia Kislitsyna
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