Crocodiles and alligators are often considered the same animal but they have distinct differences that make them each unique. For starters, they can be found in different areas of the world and have different physical characteristics.
One of the easier ways to identify a crocodile from an alligator is to look for their lengthy, slim-shaped snouts. Crocodiles have V-shaped snouts whereas alligators have U-shaped snouts. The reason for the different shaped snouts is evolutionary. Alligators developed wider snouts to catch larger prey, while crocodiles developed slimmer snouts because their main diet consists of fish and smaller animals.
Another way to distinguish crocodiles from alligators is to observe their jaws. In crocodiles, the upper and lower jaws appear to be the same size. Alligators on the other hand have a much bigger upper jaw, permitting the lower jaw to tuck in underneath. Because of this, the lower jaw is hidden and only the upper jaw teeth can be seen.
Another easy way to differentiate alligators from crocodiles is by examining their color. The skin of an alligator is typically very dark, appearing nearly black. Crocodiles in contrast are greenish-brown in color.
Crocodiles and alligators are generally found near calm rivers, spending time in both the water and on land. Although they enjoy similar habitats, they live in very different parts of the world. Crocodiles can be found in the Americas as well as Africa, Australia and southern Asia, while Alligators tend to live near the Gulf Coast, eastern China and southern United States.
Both crocodiles and alligators belong to the Crocodilia family which consists of three branches. The Crocodylidae family which encompasses all the crocodile types, the Alligatoridae family which splits into two subfamilies, the Alligatorinae (alligators) and the Caimaniae (caimans), and finally the Gavialidae family which uniquely only belongs solely to the gharial species.
Other Species: Caimans and Gharials
Caimans and gharials are also from the Crocodilia family however have minor differences that set them apart from the common crocodile and alligator. Found only in Central and South America, Caimans are similar to alligators but significantly smaller, measuring at 6.5 to 8 feet in length, compared to the alligator which measures up to 13 feet. The gharial species can be distinguished by their extremely narrow snout and are only found in India.
Crocodiles and alligators are dangerous and should only be approached by trained professionals. Whether on land or in the water, they are quick and can catch their prey with ease and without hesitation. If a crocodile or alligator is spotted outside of their natural habitat, or has escaped from a research facility, they should be reported immediately to animal control.