Crocodylus acutus. By Ken Mayer.
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Meet the Alligator's Distant (but Local) Relative

 

 

Introduction  |  Taxonomy, Phylogeny & Etymology  Distribution & Population  Ecology

Anatomy & Physiology  |  Diet & Digestion  |  Reproduction  |  Survival  |  Human Conflict

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SPECIES PROFILE

American crocodile basking.AMERICAN

CROCODILE

Crocodylus acutus

 

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Reptilia

Superorder: Crocodylomorpha

Order: Crocodilia

Family: Crocodylidae

 

 

 

(Image: Georgiana Wingard, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

 

 

Distribution & Population

 

In North America the crocodile may be found in the nation's small tropical and subtropical region-- from the southernmost point of Florida in Key West, and as far north as the latitude of Lake Okeechobee. This species is also found in Mexico, especially along the western region, Central America, northern South America, and the western and northern islands of the Caribbean.

 

Range map of american crocodile.This map shows, in red-colored areas, potential habitats of the crocodile in South Florida. (Image: Adapted from the original by University of Florida- FLREC; courtesy of same.)

 

While the species doesn't tolerate the lower temperatures that its alligator cousin can, there is a reliable report of a lone female croc (which was not an escapee from a zoo) which was found as far north as the St. Johns River in Brevard County in central Florida in 1993, and confirmed croc sightings in 2008 in the Manatee River near the mouth of Tampa Bay. Reportedly, a small population has been thriving in Sumter County of north central Florida, released captives from a local crocodile facility.

 

These discoveries are curious clues regarding the species' possible extended range in Florida before human pressure had its deleterious effect. It should be noted that the appearance of these single specimens in the relative northerly range does not necessarily mean that a sustained population(s) is being established there.

 

The species was in serious decline in Florida, and by 1970 was nearly extinct in the state, due mostly to decimation of its habitat by humans for their industrial and residential development. The reptile was classified by U.S. wildlife authorities as endangered for many years. In 2007 the species was downlisted to the classification, "threatened," due to its steady increase in population, a benefit which occurred under legal protection, scientific study and other intensive conservation measures. In 1976, the crocodile population in South Florida was deemed to be 200 to 300 individuals; the population in 2007 had grown to an estimated 1,400 to 2,000, excluding hatchlings.

 

A crocodile was reported to have taken a domestic dog as prey at a Key Biscayne golf course in the autumn of 2015 and again in February 2017, occurrences typically involving an alligator rather than a crocodile.  This and other such incidents of the competing purposes of crocs and humans, though not without their drawbacks, are encouraging signs of the once endangered crocodile species' comeback.

 

Despite its ecological resilience, this reptile has had to adapt to the settlement of humans in the New World, who destroy its habitat by indiscreet residential and industrial development, hunt it for it for products such as meat and hide, and kill it out of fear. This crocodile is a relatively 'shy' animal compared to other crocodilians, and is less likely to remain visible in the vicinity of humans.

 

A group of the crocodiles (perhaps 10% of the state's population) thrived as a colony for years at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant of Florida Power & Light (FPL) near Miami, where the man-made canals used for cooling the reactors of the plant provide comfortably warm waters for these reptiles and other animals, especially during the cooler months. Unfortunately, crocs are leaving the area, probably because of the rise of algae blooms, of water temperatures and of salinity levels, which have been measured at more than double the croc's tolerance level. Reportedly, poor canal design by FPL may be to blame. Elevated levels of ammonia and phosphorus may also be caused by this problem, which would result in peril to local marine life.

 

American crocodile basking at Cape Sable.

This crocodile, basking at water's edge at Cape Sable in Everglades National Park, may have been photographed with a zoom lens from a distance. Typically, if a human or boat approaches the croc, it will, in a furious burst of energy, dash into the security of the water. By comparison, the alligator usually allows a closer approach, though a crocodile that is desentitized to human presence may be as tolerant. 

(Image: National Park Service)

 

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