Crossing over the Sand River at the causeway always provides something interesting to marvel at. From the large pod of hippos in the southern pools to giant kingfishers that perch so close to the road that you can have an up close and personal view of every tiny little detail from just a few meters away, as well as the many other species of birds from Reed Cormorants, Hamerkops, Three-banded Plovers, Pied Kingfishers, to African Fish Eagles to just name a few. One often finds themselves torn between which way to look. The one thing that always catches our attention is the crocodiles that either lie on the banks basking in the sun or have placed themselves in the water currents in the hopes of catching any fish or prey being washed over.
After admiring these ancient-looking animals, the question is often asked,
“What is the difference between crocodiles and alligators”?
The Simplest explanation is, that we don’t get alligators here in South Africa we only get crocodiles, alligators are normally found in North America. Be that as it may, I thought I would still share a few of the differences between these two enormously successful animals.
Firstly, crocodiles belong to the Crocodylidae family (which includes 14 species throughout, Asia, Africa, Australia and the Americas), and alligators belong to the Alligatoridae family (only found in the Americas and Asia), this family also includes caimans, but I am going to focus on the alligator.
The shape of their snout is one of the most noticeable differences. Often crocodiles will wait patiently right at the edge of the downstream side of the causeway, with their jaws open in the hopes that unsuspecting fish will be swept into their mouths. Here we can see clearly, the pointier snout of the crocodile that is V-shaped. Whereas an alligator has a broader snout in the shape of a U.
If you manage to get a good glimpse of a crocodile’s teeth you will notice that some of their bottom teeth are exposed when their jaw is shut, most noticeably the 4th tooth from the front. This differs from the alligator as typically only their top teeth are shown. A crocodile has a stronger bite force measuring about 3700 psi (pound per square inch), and alligators’ strength is 2500 psi.
Adult crocodiles are dark olive-green or brown in colour with darker markings on the back, side and tails. Alligators are slate grey with yellow to the whiteish underside.
On average crocodiles are bigger than alligators with adults reaching between 3.5 – 5 meters in length, whereas alligators’ average length is between 2.5 – 4.5 meters.
In order to detect prey in murky waters where visibility is limited or impossible, both crocodiles and alligators use special sensory organs on their skin that detect small disruptions in the water, known as dome pressure receptors. But an interesting difference is that they are scattered all over the body of the crocodile and are just visible as tiny black spots near the jaw of an alligator.
So next time you are here at Londolozi and see a crocodile, or even if you happen to come across an alligator somewhere else in the world, take a bit of time to see if you can see the differentiating features.