How long do crocodiles live?

Close-up of the Grumeti river infested with large Nile crocs

Crocodiles, in the form we recognize them today, have roamed the earth for 80 million years. Their ancestors, Pseudosuchia, were around a whopping 230 million years ago.

With their impressive hunting tactics, enormous size and muscle, as well as their social habits, it’s no wonder they’ve been around for centuries.

So we know they’ve been around for years, but to what age does the croc actually live to?

Pseudoscience has led many people into believing that crocodiles are immortal. That it would take something enigmatic to kill off a croc.

Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Let’s take a closer look at a crocodile’s lifespan and what plays a role in keeping these reptiles alive.

How Long Can a Crocodile Live?

Nile croc resting along a sand bank, in the Selous Game Reserve

Despite their appearance and reputation that comes straight out of a horror film, crocodiles do in fact age. Like every other creature, there comes a time when these ancient beings simply have to face death.

Although the idea of crocs living for hundreds of years is undoubtedly intriguing, it’s simply not the case. Just like humans, crocodiles start losing their strength and overall body condition.

It doesn’t put them in the best position. They often face competition for territory and food. This also goes along with losing their impressive stamina that comes along with finding a sustainable meal.

An average crocodile lifespan

Given that there are 13 species of crocodile, the average lifespan varies. The large reptiles reside in the tropical regions of Asia, Africa, America, and Australia.

Their different lifestyles mean that each of the species grows and lives differently from each other.

Take for example the largest of the croc species, the saltwater crocodile. This species has an average lifespan of 70 years, living just as long as the modern-day human.

Its cousin, the Nile crocodile, can live anywhere from 70 years to 100 years of age.

And the American crocodile lives to a maximum of 70 years old.

However, smaller croc species aren’t too lucky. Their average lifespan is around 30-40 years.

Measuring a croc’s age

The older the tree, the more tree rings it has

Measuring a croc’s age isn’t as simple as one may think. Several techniques provide the most reliable information. The most used technique is to measure the lamellar growth rings. These rings occur in the bones and teeth of the crocodile.

The bones and teeth grow one new ring each year, typically between the dry and wet seasons.

Can crocodiles die of old age?

In reality, the physical effects of ageing cause the death of crocs. As they age, one by one they start losing their deadly teeth. And without those canines, they’re going to have a hard time tossing and turning their prey in the water.

Some crocodiles will gradually start developing cataracts. The scientific term is crocodile shagreen, which is characterized by greyish-white opacities. Sadly it means their spying eyes, used for hunting, aren’t that efficient.

What Might Shorten a Crocodile’s Lifespan?

Nile crocodile swallows a large impala meat chunk

Besides poachers and hunters, crocodiles don’t face any extreme danger that has the potential to shorten their lifespan. The usual species killers, such as habitat destruction and human intervention, are some of the other main culprits.

What animals prey on crocodiles?

The good news is that crocs don’t have to worry too much about landing on the menu. The ferocious predators induce fear in herbivores and small mammals.

They’ve become natural enemies on their own. The largest of the crocs will even attack and eat animals as large as wildebeest.

However, desperate big cats, such as jaguars and leopards, will sometimes have their go at attacking a vulnerable crocodile.

Huge serpents, like pythons and anacondas, will also take their chances against a croc when times are hard.

These cases are rare and the crocs don’t have regular predators. This puts the crocs lifespan in a good position. Without becoming prey, they have the chance of living a longer life.

How long does a crocodile live without food?

Nile crocodiles twist and turn in the water to bite off chunks of a dead impala

The crocodile’s body has been evolving for millions of years. With the most acidic stomach of all animals, the croc can digest all parts of their meals, including the hooves and horns of an animal.

The evolved metabolism allows the croc to use up the entirety of the food it consumes. This is why it’s possible for crocs to go as long as a year without eating any food.

In extreme situations, the croc’s body can also shut down. During this shutdown period, the crocodile will use up its own tissue as an energy form. It’s then able to survive up to 2 years without having a meal.

Living in the wild vs living in captivity

There are places out there that claim they’ve had crocodiles living for over a century. A zoo in Yekaterinburg, Russia, once housed a crocodile named Kolya that lived up to 110-115 years old.

Crocworld, in South Africa, has said the resident crocodile living in the Okavango Delta has been around since 1900.

How true are these tales?

That we’ll never fully know.

What we do know though, is that animals tend to live much longer in captivity than in the wild. With no harsh environments or competition for food, it’s easy to see why.

While the idea of a longer life may sound better to us, it’s definitely not better for the animal. As the famous song goes, ‘it’s the circle of life’, and nature knows best!

What is the oldest living crocodile?

Mr. Freshie was a freshwater croc living in an Australian zoo. Steve and Bob Irwin made the croc famous by rescuing him. Mr. Freshie miraculously lived to the ripe age of between 120-140 years, despite hunters shooting twice at the animal.

The Lifespan of a Crocodile

So it might be appealing to view crocs as modern-day dinosaurs, who are totally alien to us. But the truth is, they age just as normally as any animal would. They grow up quickly and reach full size, when they have their chance to procreate.

But once all the fun is over, they gradually get older and weaker and nevertheless die. Hopefully, they have the chance to live a long and happy life.

Crocs are lucky to have a long life. Their well-evolved bodies and digestive systems keep them on track and protect them from danger.

Next time you come face to face with these beauts, appreciate how far these reptiles have come.

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