Crocodile vs Alligator

Alligator

Do you know the difference between these snappy, toothy creatures?

Many people are unaware of the difference between an alligator and a crocodile and will even use the words interchangeably. However, coming from different biological families, there are distinct differences between the two. Also listed here are some great spots within Africa to see Crocodiles (but you’ll find no Alligators on this continent we’re afraid!)

Habitat:

Alligators live only in the south-eastern US and eastern China, whereas crocodiles can be found across the world in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, North America, South America, and Central America.

A crocodile can better tolerate saltwater due to specialized salt glands for filtering out salt, which are present, but non-functioning, in alligators. This difference explains, for example, why crocodiles have managed to spread across the islands of the Caribbean, and alligators haven’t.

Physical differences:

  • General size
    A full-grown crocodile will likely be several feet longer than an adult alligator.

  • Head
    The most obvious difference is that crocodiles have a narrower and longer head and a more V shaped snout compared to the U shape of the Alligator.

Example of an alligator’s U Shaped head

  • Toothy grin
    The upper and lower jaws of the crocodiles are the same width, and the teeth in the lower jaw fall along the edge or outside the upper jaw when the mouth is closed; therefore, all teeth are visible, unlike an alligator, which possesses in the upper jaw small depressions into which the lower teeth fit.

Lurking toothy crocodile at St Lucia Estuary

  • Toes
    Crocodiles also have more webbing on the toes of the hind feet

  • Colour
    Crocodiles are generally lighter in colour than alligators.

Behaviour:

Alligators, while certainly dangerous, are relatively timid compared to crocodiles. An alligator will generally try to escape if approached by humans, usually heading for the nearest water. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are more bad-tempered and far more likely to attack humans, even unprovoked

On land and in water, crocodiles are usually slower than alligators and as they are a tropical species they are also far more sensitive to the cold.

Some of the places to see wild crocodile in Africa:

1) Zambezi River, Zambia & Botswana
The Nile Crocodile is endemic to the Zambezi River and Tongabezi Lodge sits right on the banks of this fourth largest river in Africa. The lodge offers twice daily boat trips out to spot crocs that sit basking on the shores or in their log-like camouflage in the river itself. You will also see a lot of hippo too! If you want to go further afield then day trips are offered into Chobe National Park in Botswana which is the gateway through to the Okavango Delta – another popular croc hang out.

Crocodile by the Zambezi. Photo credit to Ann Lewinsky Photography

2) Mara River, Northern Serengeti, Tanzania
The migration of nearly two million wildebeest and zebra across the plains of Tanzania’s Serengeti and Kenya’s Maasai Mara is one of the oldest and last great land migrations on earth. The crossing of the Mara River in the Northern Serengeti has become an iconic safari event with many Nile Crocodiles just waiting in anticipation for their prey to make a run for it. A good place to stay would be Nomad’s Serengeti Safari Camp

3) Kruger National Park, South Africa
Most people focus on the big five when they think of Kruger National Park but it offers so much more. Crocodile Kruger Safari Lodge is aptly situated on the banks of the Crocodile River and with a name like that we needn’t say anymore!

4) St Lucia Estuary, KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa
This estuary offers an abundance of birdlife, hippo as well as Nile Crocodiles. You can take canoes out or if you are not that brave then a boat trip will probably do. Makakatana Bay Lodge is a great base.

Crocodile at St Lucia Estuary