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.)

 

 

Ecology

 

The crocodile is able to swim the ocean since it has the ability, as other crocodiles do, to osmoregulate (regulate salt in) its body. This helps explain why the species also inhabits northern South America, Central America and the Caribbean.

 

However, it prefers to settle in brackish or fresh waters like lagoons, estuaries, streams, Mangrove at Everglades National Park.coastal tributaries, marshes and lakes, where prey food, as well as basking, hiding and nesting areas are more readily available. Moreover, they are better able to grow and survive in lower salinity. Like alligators, they prefer calmer waters, where mobility, hunting, resting and hiding are easier. While this is their habitat of choice, they are increasingly seen in canals and lakes in suburban areas, probably due to the increase in their population.

 

Mangrove at Everglades National Park, part of a "stand" of which is shown in the image at left, is ubiquitous along marine shores and provides excellent habitat for crocs seeking security or shade, especially smaller ones.  (Image: National Park Service)

 

 

 

 

In the exciting short video above, a crocodile is shown (above and below the water's surface) swimming at a mangrove stand near Islamorada in the Florida Keys.

 

The crocs don't have to compete much with ther 'gator cousins because in the Everglades the fresh water that originates from the Kissimmee River Basin in central Florida and from Lake Okeechobee flows southward, terminating at Florida bay at the southern tip of the Everglades, rendering the bay water brackish, which the crocodiles can tolerate (though they have limits, as explained in the section on "Distribution & Population"). This large area, teeming with marine life and mangrove stands, is generally a good environment for the species, and the alligators, which can't process salt as the crocs can, have plenty of freshwater to enjoy north of the bay.

 

Furthermore, the mangrove stands' abundance of root systems serve as shelter to young crocodiles, and to various marine life which serve as food for lurking crocs. Crocodile Lake National Wildlife Refuge was established nearby in an effort to protect the crocodiles in the area. Biscayne National Park includes Biscayne Bay, where crocodiles and mangrove forests live.

 

An American crocodile basking on rock at Biscayne National Park.

The crocodile shown here is basking in Biscayne National Park, where mangrove forests thrive.

(Image: Judd Patterson, National Park Service.)

 

The crocodile plays its role in the circle of life of its habitat, in part by regulating animal populations. As an apex predator it controls the numbers when it takes animals as prey. Without such population "management," habitat elements can be destroyed due to the overuse by excessive numbers of a certain species.

 

 

 

 

 

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