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The American crocodile has a large lizard-like body with four short legs and a long muscular tail. Their hides are rough and scaled. Juvenile American crocodiles are dark olive brown with darker cross-bands on tail and body, while adults are uniformly brown with darker cross-bands on tail.
Alligators and crocodiles are similar in appearance, but exhibit a number of differences. Alligators are dark colored with a broad, rounded snout and are usually found in fresh water. Crocodiles are grayish-green and prefer coastal, brackish, and salt-water habitats. They have a narrow, tapered, triangular snout. Also, the fourth tooth on either side of the lower jaw of an alligator fits into an internal socket in the upper jaw so that these teeth are hidden when the mouth is closed. In a crocodile, the fourth tooth is always exposed.
Maximum length of 6 m (19.8 ft.); unconfirmed reports of 7 m (23 ft.) specimens exist
Adult males typically reach lengths of 5 m (16.4 ft.)
Adults may reach 400-500 kg (882-1102 lbs.), with particularly large adults surpassing 1000 kg (2204.6 lbs.)
The crocodile feeds primarily on fish, but will eat crustaceans, turtles, and occasionally birds and mammals
90 days; The temperature of the nest determines the sex of the young. If the nest is below 30 degrees Celsius (86°F) most hatchlings are female. If the nest is above 34 degrees Celsius (93°F) most hatchlings are male. Nest temperatures between 30-34 degrees Celsius will produce similar numbers of both sexes.
Hatching occurs from late July to early August.
Compared to other crocodilians, the American crocodile is a poor mother. She is very timid and is easily frightened away from the nest.
At about 8-10 years of age or 6-8 ft (1.8-2.4 m) in length
Averages about 45 years
Found in extreme southern Florida, the Caribbean Islands, Central America, and northern South America; Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Haiti, and Dominican Republic
Estuarine, coastal, and freshwater habitats
American crocodiles hunt by remaining completely motionless in the water. When prey is close they attack - grabbing the animal and drowning it with a maneuver referred to as the "death roll." In order to attract fish for their meal, they may regurgitate bits of food.
Crocodiles swallow stones to aid in digestion and to control buoyancy in the water.
Juvenile crocodiles, unlike adults, are unable to handle the salt content of the ocean environment. They are capable of drinking the freshwater film of water that floats upon the top layer of seawater. Adults can handle the normal saline levels of seawater by extracting the salt from their body using salt glands on their tongue.
A crocodile's ectothermic metabolism is extremely efficient. A 450 kg (992.1 lb.) crocodile can survive for long periods of time between meals. Crocodiles have brains and hearts that are more advanced than any other living reptile.
Male crocodiles may exhibit courtship and territorial behaviors such as vocalization, and tail and head slapping. They are also able to create infrasonic sounds beneath the water, which causes ripples to form on the surface.
A female crocodile tries to get the male's attention through visual, tactile, olfactory, and audible enticements. The female initiates courtship displays. Before mating though, she must ease the aggressiveness of the male whose territory she has invaded.
ECOLOGY AND CONSERVATION
American crocodiles are ecologically important as predators. They help the environment by controlling some over-populated fish species that may cause an imbalance in the aquatic ecosystem. Unfortunately, the American crocodile and other large carnivores that live in coastal zones are at risk because rapid development causes a domino effect for future imbalances in the ecosystem.
Humans are a crocodile's main threat, having hunted them for their skin since the 1930s. Today, the occurrence of crocodile hunting has decreased due to their protected status, but habitat loss and the increasing human population are an on-going struggle for American crocodiles.
Conant, Roger and Joseph T. Collins.
Reptiles and Amphibians: Eastern and Central North America
. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1991.
Haliday, T. and K. Adler, eds.
Encyclopedia of Reptiles and Amphibians
. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1987.
Ross, C., ed.
Crocodiles and Alligators
. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 1989.
. London: Cristopher Helm Ltd., 1989.