American crocodile

Crocodylus acutus

TAXONOMY

Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807 Antilles. OTHER COMMON NAMES

English: American saltwater crocodile; French: Crocodile americain; German: Mittelamerikanisches Krokodil; Spanish: Cocodrilo americano.

PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS

The American crocodile has a somewhat narrow snout and slender build. Adults average 10-11 ft (3-3.5 m) in length, but males can grow to 20 ft (6 m). Females average 8-10 ft (2.5-3 m). A distinctive hump on the skull of adults just in front of the eyes is diagnostic of the species. Yellowish to gray with dark cross-marks when young; older American crocodiles often lose the bands and are a uniform sandy color or dark brown. The underside is white.

DISTRIBUTION

United States, Mexico, Central America, northern South America, islands of the Caribbean Sea.

HABITAT

Coasts along mangroves, estuaries, large rivers, and sometimes inland lakes.

BEHAVIOR

This is a social animal, coexisting in large groups. The American crocodile has a high tolerance to salt water and excretes excess salt from lingual glands on the tongue.

FEEDING ECOLOGY AND DIET

This species eats large fish, frogs, turtles, birds, and small mammals. In some places they take livestock, and there are occasional reports of very large individuals attacking humans. Hatchlings feed on crabs, insects, small frogs, tadpoles, and fish.

REPRODUCTIVE BIOLOGY

Although usually a hole nester, the female American crocodile may make a mound nest of sand, vegetation, and compost. The breeding season is late April to early May in Florida. In South America the breeding season is March to May. They lay 30-60 eggs, which hatch in 80-90 days, depending on incubation temperature. The female crocodile guards her nest, assists the hatchlings, and thereafter protects them from predators. Juveniles appear to disperse from the vicinity of the nest site within a few days.

CONSERVATION STATUS

This species is fairly widespread, but only small populations of the American crocodile are left throughout its range. The species is protected in most countries where it occurs, but enforcement is often inadequate. Threats are habitat fragmentation and direct human disturbance. Estimated wild population is 10,000 to 20,000. It is listed as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List, and appears under Appendix I of CITES.

SIGNIFICANCE TO HUMANS

Eggs are used as a food source by indigenous people in parts of the range. ♦

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