American crocodile: Crocodylus acutus
Genus/Species: Crocodylus acutus
Common Name: American crocodile
Federal Status: Threatened
FL Status: Federally-designated Threatened
FNAI Ranks: G2/S1 (Globally: Imperiled/State: Critically Imperiled)
IUCN Status: VU (Vulnerable)
The American crocodile is a grayish-brown crocodilian that can reach lengths of up to 15 feet (4.6 meters). A dark crossband or spots can be found on the back, legs, and tail. The crocodile also has a white belly, tapered snout, and the fourth tooth on the lower jaw (mandible) can be seen when the snout is closed (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
The diet of the American crocodiles primarily consists of small mammals, birds, frogs, turtles, and fish (Fishman et al. 2009).
Male crocodiles begin courting females in late January and early February. Crocodiles are ectothermic and therefore control their body temperature by basking in the sun, or moving to areas with warmer or cooler air or water temperatures. Courting rituals can be extensive, often lasting for days. Males initiate courting by quickly and consecutively performing head slaps, and the female will raise her snout and arch her tail if she is interested. The last courting ritual involves the male and female rubbing snouts and submerging under water. Nesting occurs in late April and early May. The soil nests are built on land and above high tide marks. Females will lay 20 to 60 eggs that incubate for about 85 days. When the incubation period is complete, females will dig the nest up and carry the young to water (Mazzotti, n.d.).
Habitat and Distribution
The American crocodile inhabits brackish or saltwater areas and can be found in ponds, coves, and creeks in mangrove swamps. American crocodiles occur in South Florida and also can be found in Hispaniola, Cuba, Jamaica, along the Caribbean coast from southern Mexico to Venezuela, and along the Pacific coast from Mexico to Peru. The northern end of the crocodile’s range is in South Florida. Occasionally, crocodiles are encountered inland in freshwater areas along the southern Florida coast (Distribution map data from: Krysko et al. 2011).
Historically crocodiles were hunted extensively as their hides were worth a considerable amount of money between 1930 and 1960. This caused considerable damage to their population rates. Presently, illegal hunting and habitat destruction are the main threats to the crocodile population (Florida Museum of Natural History, n.d.). Habitat destruction occurs in different ways, but the main threat has been humans developing in crocodile habitat. It is illegal to hunt crocodiles in the U.S.; however, some hunting still occurs illegally. Hunting also occurs in other countries in the crocodile’s range, as most countries have hard times enforcing conservation laws, or have no conservation laws to protect the crocodile and its habitat. Hydrological alterations in their habitats can cause damage to their eggs as they cannot withstand conditions that are too dry or too wet (Florida Museum of Natural History, n.d.). Crocodile nests also face threats of predation from raccoons, birds, and crabs (Mazzotti, n.d). Other threats include vehicle strikes, disease, and mortality and habitat damage from hurricanes (Florida Natural Areas Inventory 2001).
Conservation and Management
The American crocodile is protected as a Threatened species by the Federal Endangered Species Act and as a Federally-designated Threatened species by Florida’s Endangered and Threatened Species Rule .
Federal Recovery Plan
Other Informative Links
Animal Diversity Web
Florida Museum of Natural History
Florida Natural Areas Inventory
FWC - American Crocodile brochure
FWC - A Guide to Living with Crocodiles
International Union for Conservation of Nature
University of Florida IFAS Extension
Western Connecticut State University
Printable version of this page
Fishman, J., K. MacKinnon and S. Baker. 2009. "Crocodylus acutus" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed June 01, 2011 http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/site/accounts/information/Crocodylus_acutus.html .
Florida Museum of Natural History. (n.d.). American Crocodile. Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Herpetology: http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/cnhc/csp_cacu.htm .
Florida Natural Areas Inventory. 2001. Field guide to the rare animals of Florida. http://www.fnai.org/FieldGuide/pdf/Crocodylus_acutus.PDF .
Krysko, K., K. Enge, and P. Moler. 2011. Crocodylus acutus (Cuvier 1807) American crocodile. Atlas of Amphibians and Reptiles in Florida.
Mazzotti, F. J. (n.d.). American Crocodiles (Crocodylus acutus) in Florida.Retrieved May 20, 2011, from Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences: /media/664081/AmericanCrocodilesinFL.pdf .
Image Credit Photo by FWC