Alligators and crocodiles are two creatures that share many similarities, but what is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?
This is one of the most frequently asked questions when it comes to crocodilians and here, you’ll get to know the 10 main differences between an alligator and a crocodile.
Table of Contents
The Difference Between an Alligator and a Crocodile
- Family: Alligators and crocodiles are from the same scientific order but from different families. Both are members of the Crocodylia but alligators come from the Alligatordae family while the crocodile comes from the Crocodylidae family.
- The shape of the snout: The alligator’s snout is wide and u-shaped while the crocodile’s snout is pointed and V-shaped.
- Location: Alligators can be found in some parts of the US and China, while crocodiles can be found across the world. Scroll down to see more information about where you will find each.
- Habitat: Alligators prefer freshwater habitat while the crocodiles prefer water that is more saline or salty.
- Size: An adult crocodile will likely be several feet longer than a full-grown alligator.
- Toothy grin: Alligator’s teeth are sometimes hidden when their mouth is closed but crocodiles can’t hide their teeth.
- Color: Crocodiles are lighter in color than alligators
- Speed: Crocodiles are usually slower than alligators both on land and in water.
- Behavior: Crocodiles are usually much more aggressive than alligators
- Lifespan: Crocodiles tend to live longer than alligators.
Once you understand the differences, you can easily tell them apart. Each of these differences is explained in more detail below.
1. Alligators and crocodiles come from different families
There are three families of crocodilians i.e. the Alligatoridae which includes the alligator and the caimans, the Crocodylidae which includes the crocodiles, and the Gavialidae which include only the gharial. So, the first difference is that alligators and crocodiles come from different families.
2. Alligators and crocodiles have different snouts
Another difference between the alligators and crocodiles is the snout. The alligator’s snout is broader and shaped like a U, while the crocodile’s snout is longer and narrower and shaped like a V.
3. Location – Where do alligators and crocodiles live?
Alligators only live in the southeastern U.S. and eastern China, while crocodiles can be found across the world in Africa, Southeast Asia, Australia, North America, South America, and Central America.
If you reside in the United States, then you are far more likely to encounter an alligator than a crocodile. Even though there is an American crocodile species, they only live in the southernmost tip of Florida whereas alligators can be found across Florida and Louisiana and other parts of Georgia, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, North and South Carolina, Arkansas, and Oklahoma.
The number of alligators is much more than the number of crocodiles in the United States. There are more than 3 million alligators in the U.S.
4. Habitat – Freshwater or Saltwater?
Crocodiles have special glands in their tongues that excrete excess salt from their bodies – meaning that they are capable of spending days, or even weeks at sea.
Alligators on the other hand have these glands but they don’t work as well, so they usually stick to freshwater habitats. At times, alligators can be found in brackish water (a mixture of salt and freshwater).
5. Size – Which is bigger alligator or crocodile?
A full-grown crocodile can be roughly 19 feet long while an adult alligator can be around 14 feet.
6. Alligators and crocodiles have different teeth
When their mouths are closed, the snouts of crocodiles and alligators are easily differentiated as the alligator will have none of its bottom teeth visible, while the crocodile’s lower fourth tooth can always be seen.
Crocodiles always have many visible teeth sticking out over their lips but since an alligator’s upper jaw is wider than its lower, it can hide all its teeth when its mouth is closed.
Alligators usually have a dark blackish grey color whereas crocodile’s hides tend to be more of a light tan or olive color.
Note: The exact color of an alligator’s skin depends on the quality of water it swims in. The tannic acid from overhanging trees will make alligators darker while algae will make them greener.
8. Speed – Which is faster, an alligator or a crocodile?
On land: Both the alligator and crocodile can move quickly on land but only for short distances. Both can gallop or sprint but can only do it when threatened, and for long.
An alligator might reach a maximum speed of about 11 mph (18 kph), while a crocodile might reach almost 9 mph (14 kph).
In water: Both of them are much more agile and faster in water where they can use their long, muscular tails to move their bodies forward.
When alligators swim, they might reach a maximum speed of about 20 mph (32 kph), while crocodiles might reach a speed of about 9 mph (15 kph).
9. Behavior – Which is more aggressive: An alligator or a crocodile?
Alligators can be dangerous but are relatively timid when compared to crocodiles. Generally, an alligator will try to escape if approached by humans. The only time that wild alligators will attack humans is if they are unexpectedly disturbed, provoked, or defending their young ones.
Alligators are instinctively scared of people but can lose some of that fear with regular contact. Except in controlled conditions, feeding an alligator is almost always a bad idea as it will lose some of its fear and see humans as a source of food. Alligators can also mistake small children and pet dogs for prey.
On the other hand, crocodiles are much more bad-tempered and far more likely to attack humans even unprovoked.
The most dangerous crocodiles in the world are Australian saltwater crocodiles, followed by Nile crocodiles, and American crocodiles.
Generally, crocodiles live longer than alligators. The average lifespan of a crocodile is between 70-100 years whereas, the average lifespan of an alligator is between 30-50 years.
Alligator VS Crocodile who would win?
It is tough to predict who would win between an alligator and a crocodile if they fight because both animals have similar physical traits.
Alligators have a broader snout than crocodiles and when it closes it mouth, the teeth are hidden unlike those of a crocodile.
The success of the fight between an alligator and a crocodile could be determined by various factors like the habitat and age of the animals involved.
If the fight occurs on land, there’s a chance that an alligator may win because it is faster on land than crocodile.
An adult crocodile is more likely to injure an adult alligator due to its size. Generally, crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators – this means that a crocodile could easily win the fight.
Watch the video below to know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile and also to know who would win if they fight.
Which is bigger Alligator or Crocodile?
Both animals are massive reptiles although crocodiles are the larger of the two species. Crocodiles can grow up to 5.5 meters in length, reaching almost 1 ton, while alligators can grow anywhere from 3-4.5 meters, weighing an average of 230kg.
Which is more dangerous Alligator or Crocodile?
Both animals are dangerous but alligators are relatively timid compared to crocodiles. If an alligator is approached by a human, it will usually try to escape by heading for the nearest water but can attack if surprised, provoked, or defending its young ones.
Crocodiles are more aggressive than alligators, making them the more dangerous animal. Generally, crocodiles are bad-tempered and far more likely to attack humans, even unprovoked.
Alligator and Crocodile Similarities
Here are some similarities between an alligator and a crocodile.
An obvious similarity between alligators and crocodiles is that both are reptiles. Both are cold-blooded creatures that expend little energy when they move. Both can’t regulate their own internal body temperature and must rely on external heat sources such as the sun. Both have tough, scaly hide.
They both are known for living in or near water but alligators are freshwater animals while crocodiles live in saltwater. Alligators and crocodiles remain in wetlands and on coasts and both are surprisingly fast swimmers.
Alligators and crocodiles have similar jaws and teeth and are also similar in size thus tend to eat similar foods. Younger species eat insects, crustaceans, and small fish and as they grow bigger, they eat other aquatic animals like fish and mollusks.
I hope the question “what is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile” as well as other questions you might have in mind about Alligator VS Crocodile have been answered in this post.
Alligators and crocodiles are both reptiles that live in or near water but are also different from each other in that they come from different families, have different snouts, are different in size, speed, behavior, and their lifespan is also different.
So, what do you think – Is there any difference between alligators and crocodiles that surprise you? Let’s discuss it in the comments section below!
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