Crocodiles are large aquatic reptiles that live throughout the tropics of Asia, Africa, Australia, and the Americas. True crocodiles are physically and behavior-wise distinct from caimans, gharials, and alligators which are also extant members of the order Crocodilia but belongs to separate families. Here we discuss the 14 extant species of crocodiles living in the world today and significant features associated with these species.
14. Dwarf crocodile -
The dwarf crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis), is the smallest living crocodile that lives across the lowlands of sub-Saharan West Central and West Africa. The average length attained by adults of this species is 4.9 feet. The dwarf crocodile is a primarily nocturnal species and is slow and timid by nature. Fish, crustaceans, and small mammals constitute its food base. Little is known about this species of crocodile, and it is classified as vulnerable by the IUCN.
13. West African crocodile -
The desert crocodile or the West African crocodile (Crocodylus suchus) is found across a wide range in sub-Saharan Africa. Often confused with the Nile crocodile, the desert crocodile is actually more docile than the Nile species and hence was selected by Ancient Egyptians for spiritual rights. Even today, traditional people in Mauritania revere and protect these crocodiles as they believe that the waters where these reptiles live would dry up if these animals were to disappear.
12. Siamese crocodile -
The Siamese crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis) is a critically endangered crocodile species that is native to the Borneo and Java islands of Indonesia, East Malaysia, Laos, Cambodia, Brunei, Vietnam, and Thailand. The Siamese crocodile is a medium-sized crocodilian with an olive-green colored body. Adults attain a length of about 6.9 feet and weigh about 40 to 70 kg. Within their range, the Siamese crocodiles inhabit freshwater lakes, slow-moving rivers and streams, marshes, and swamplands. These animals are threatened by habitat occupation and human disturbance. The Siamese crocodiles are one of the most heavily exploited species of crocodiles and thousands remain in captivity in farms across Southeast Asia where they are killed for their meat, body parts, and hide. Wild individuals are often captured illegally to add to the animals in captivity.
11. Cuban crocodile -
The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is a small crocodile species that is found only in Cuba. The crocodile attains a length between 6.9 and 7.5 feet and weighs between 70 to 80 kg. The crocodiles are known for their aggressive nature and are potentially dangerous to humans. The Cuban crocodile lives in freshwater marshes and rivers and is the most terrestrial of all the extant crocodile species. The reptiles feed on turtles, small mammals, and fish. Like many other crocodilians, the Cuban crocodile is also listed as a Critically Endangered species. Today, the range of this species is limited to the Isle of Youth and the Zapata Swamp of Cuba although its historic range was spread across the Caribbean. Hunting has been the biggest factor in reducing the numbers of this species to dangerous levels.
10. Saltwater crocodile -
The saltwater crocodile (Crocodylus porosus) or the estuarine or marine crocodile is the most dangerous crocodilian living today. It is the biggest reptile in the world and also the world’s biggest riparian predator. Males grow as long as 20.7 feet in size. The saltwater crocodile is true to its name and can survive in marine environments. However, it is usually found in brackish and saline habitat like deltas, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and estuaries. This type of crocodile also has the widest range of other species of crocodiles and is found throughout the Indian subcontinent, Australia, and Southeast Asia. The saltwater crocodile drowns and swallows its prey as a whole and is a hypercarnivorous predator that can overpower almost any animal in its territory. These crocodiles and known to kill and consume even humans.
9. Mugger crocodile -
The mugger crocodile (Crocodylus palustris) is called by various names like the Indian, marsh, Persian crocodile or even just mugger. The mugger, the national reptile of Pakistan, is found throughout the Indian sub-continent. It is medium sized and is observed living in freshwater swamps, marshes, lakes, and rivers. The muggers attain lengths of 13 to 16 feet and has the broadest snout of any living crocodile species. The crocodiles are heavily armored with enlarged scutes around the neck. The mugger is an apex predator in its habitat. It is an ambush hunter that waits for its prey to arrive and then suddenly attacks the prey. The muggers, despite their strong predatory skills, are not usually aggressive by nature and pose a lesser threat to humans than the saltwater crocodiles.
8. New Guinea crocodile -
The New Guinea crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae) is a small crocodilian living on the New Guinea island where there are two isolated populations living to the north and south of a ridge that divides the island. Within its range, the crocodile inhabits freshwater lakes and swamps. Small mammals and fish are actively hunted for food by these reptiles. Conservation measures have resulted in stable populations of the New Guinea crocodile.
7. Nile crocodile -
The Nile crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus) is the second largest living reptile in the world after the saltwater crocodile. This species of crocodile is widely distributed throughout sub-Saharan Africa where it inhabits a wide variety of habitats like rivers, lakes, and marshes. The species is also capable of surviving in saline waters but is rarely found in such habitats. The Nile crocodile attains an average length between 11.6 feet and 16.5 feet. The crocodile is an opportunistic apex predator. It is also known for its highly aggressive nature and has been involved in several attacks on humans in the past. It has a powerful bite that has a grip that is nearly impossible to loosen.
6. Morelet's crocodile -
The Morelet's crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii) is medium-sized crocodile that lives in the freshwater habitat throughout the Atlantic regions of Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico. The crocodile is 9.8 feet in length and is classified as Least Concern. It has a dark grayish brown color and a broad snout. The Morelet's crocodile feeds on reptiles, birds, and mammals.
5. Philippine crocodile -
The Philippine crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis), is endemic to the Philippines and is a critically endangered species. Exploitation for commercial purposes and unsustainable fishing practices like dynamite fishing have led to a dramatic decline in the population of this crocodile species. Currently, strict measures have been implemented by the Philippines government to prevent hunting or any other form of exploitation of the Philippine crocodile.
4. Freshwater crocodile -
Freshwater crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni) is a crocodilian that lives in Northern Australia. It is a smaller species of crocodile that possesses an elongated and narrow snout. The freshwater crocodile has a light brown colored body with dark bands on body and tail. These animals live in rivers and feed mainly on fish and smaller vertebrates.
3. Orinoco crocodile -
The Orinoco crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius) can be found in the freshwater environs of Venezuela and Colombia in South America. Within its range, the crocodile is usually sighted in the Orinoco River and its tributaries. It is the largest crocodilian in the Americas and grows up to 13 feet. The Orinoco crocodile feeds on small mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and fishes. The species is an apex predator in its freshwater environment. It is a critically endangered species due to the harmful impact of human activities.
2. Slender-snouted crocodile -
The slender-snouted crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus) is found in the freshwater habitats of western and central Africa. These animals are smaller than the Nile crocodile with adults attaining lengths of about 8.2 feet and weighing between 125 and 325 kg. The crocodiles mainly feed on fish, crustaceans, and amphibians. The critically endangered slender-snouted crocodile continues to face threats of elimination like hunting for skin and meat, depletion of prey base due to overfishing, and habitat loss.
1. American crocodile -
The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is the most widespread species of crocodile found in the Americas. The range of the American crocodile extends from the Atlantic to the Pacific coast of Mexico down south including large parts of South America as far as Peru and Venezuela. The crocodile is also observed in the Caribbean islands. In the US, the American crocodile has a limited range that includes Florida’s southern half and Puerto Rico.
The American crocodile inhabits river systems, brackish lakes, lagoons, mangrove swamps, and small islands within its range. The species is well-adapted to survive and thrive in salt water and is also found in hypersaline lakes like the Lago Enriquillo. Male American crocodiles can attain lengths of 20 feet and weigh as much as 907 kg. The adults have a grayish-green color on the dorsal side, and a yellow or white ventral surface. The American crocodiles feed on small mammals, birds, fish, and reptiles. Though it is potentially dangerous to humans, it is a rare attacker. The reptiles are classified as vulnerable due to the impact of hide-hunting, habitat loss, and capture of wild individuals for commercial farming.