More often than not, people tend to get mixed up between crocodiles and alligators. I don’t blame you, as it can be confusing.
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 only one of the two you will find in Africa is the Nile crocodile.
Crocodiles and Alligators – Everything You Need to Know
In Africa I’ve encountered Africa’s slumbering in lakes, feeding in rivers, sunbathing on banks, and grabbing wildebeest by the legs. But I’ve never seen an alligator because they don’t live in Africa.
If you are traveling in Africa and see a big scary reptile in the water, it’s a crocodile. But how else do you tell the difference between crocodiles and alligators?
The following highlights the major differences, teaching you all about crocodiles vs alligators. If you like it check out cheetah vs leopard as well.
Hopefully, by the end of the article you’ll be an expert on the subject. 😉
Crocodiles vs Alligators – An Overview
You can barely see an alligator’s lower 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, in Tamaulipas (Mexico), 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.
Crocodiles are the only one of the two you will spot in Africa.
The alligator, on the one hand, is a member of the Alligatoridae family.
On the other hand, the Nile 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, Mexico, and China (only a handful are left in the wild in China though).
3. 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.
4. Snout Shape
An alligator’s head is wide and short.
In contrast, a crocodile’s head is relatively thinner and longer.
6. Jaw Placement – Crocodiles vs Alligators
- 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.
7. Body Colour
Crocodiles have an olive green or brown body coloration.
Alligators are darker in colour: blackish or gray is usually the norm.
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.
Learn More About Wildlife in Africa and Beyond
Africa Freak is dedicated to Africa and its wildlife.
Check out the site to learn all about different African animals, including how to identify them and how to learn the differences.
Or check out our practical guide to going on safari in Africa.
Enjoy, and look out for those crocodiles! 😉