Key differences between crocodiles and alligators

Jambo rafiki! :)

More often than none, I’ve seen people getting mixed up between crocodiles and alligators. While they both belong to the Crocodilia order, they are members of two quite separate taxonomic families. Besides, alligators DO NOT live in Africa!

The following highlights the major differences between the two species.


– You can’t see an alligator’s teeth when its mouth is closed; its lower teeth fit snugly into pits in the upper jaw. In contrast, a crocodile’s lower teeth are always visible.

– Alligators have a broad snout, while crocodiles have a thinner snout.

– Alligators tend to be grayish black in color, whereas crocodiles have a olive green or brown appearance.

– Alligators can only be found in the southeastern United States and in some parts of China. Crocodiles can be found all over the world.

– In the wild, alligators tend to run away. While not exactly wallflowers, they certainly prefer their own company. Some species of crocodiles, on the other hand, have legendary tempers. The Salt Water Crocodile and the Nile crocodile have been known to eat people.


– The alligator, on the one hand, is a member of the Alligatoridae family.

– On the other hand, the crocodile is part of the Crocodylidae stream.


Both species can be found on the American continent (South Florida), yet the alligator is confined to the United States and China (only a handful left in the wild though).

The crocodile inhabits lakes and rivers of Africa, Asia, America and Australia.

Freshwater or Seawater?

One difference worth mentioning is that alligators prefer freshwater, whilst crocodiles can tolerate seawater conditions better. They have special glands to filter out the salt.

Notice however, that both species can survive in either habitat.

Snout Shape

Perhaps the easiest way to differentiate the two is to look at the shape of their snouts: a “V” shaped snout for the crocodile, and a “U” shaped snout for the alligator.


Wider and shorter for the alligator.

Alligator Close-Up!

Thinner and longer for the crocodile.

Perfectly-Camouflaged Croc!

Jaw Placement

  • Alligator: upper jaw wider than lower part, and the teeth in the lower jaw fit into small cavities in the upper jaw.
  • Crocodile: upper and lower jaws are almost identical in width, hence the teeth in the lower jaw become apparent when the mouth is closed. The enormous fourth tooth, on the lower jaw, is especially visible.

Fourth Tooth Illustrated!

Body Colour

Crocodiles have an olive green or brown body coloration.

Alligators are darker in colour: blackish or gray is usually the norm.


One statistic that I really love! :)

Generally speaking, crocodiles are larger than alligators, yet size will vary from one species to another. Dwarf crocodiles for instance, will barely reach 1 m (3.3 feet).

Crocodiles have an average length of about 4-5 m, yet the largest specimens (e.g. saltwater monsters from Australia), can reach sizes in excess of 7 m (23 feet). These impressive beasts can weigh well over 1200 kg.

Alligators reach lengths of 4 m on average (13 feet) and weigh up to 360 kg. The largest alligator ever recorded was from Florida, and measured 5.3 m (17 feet 5 inches).


Crocodiles have a tendency to be way more aggressive than their cousins the alligators. They won’t hesitate to attack when feeling threatened, while alligators are more docile and usually flee when alarmed.


For both species, the nesting site is extremely important. If the eggs are not laid in ideal conditions they will simply not hatch!

Here again, the difference is rather striking: crocodiles prefer sandy banks or mud to make their nests, whereas alligators search for areas covered in vegetation.

, , ,

5 Responses to Key differences between crocodiles and alligators

  1. Johan Knols January 14, 2010 at 9:14 pm #

    Hi Michael,

    Nice blogpost and good to tell the difference between the two species. Well done!

  2. Anil January 18, 2010 at 1:21 pm #

    Had no idea there were alligators in China.

    • africafreak January 18, 2010 at 4:07 pm #

      Hi Anil! :)

      Neither did I, actually! 😉 Apparently there are only +/- 150 Chinese alligators left in the wild though…

  3. Wow April 26, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    Wow, had no idea. Thank you! :)

  4. Cameron Heath December 14, 2011 at 7:57 pm #

    Hey I’m in 6th grade. I am doing a compare and contrast essay, so I found this website to give me some information.

    Thanks, :)

    Cameron Heath

Leave a Reply