Alligators and Crocodiles

Leigh Williams
Alligators and Crocodiles
Crocodiles and alligators are two reptiles that are often mistaken for each other. One of the most common questions alligator and crocodile researchers face today is what the differences are between the two. Although these reptiles favor in physical features, there are numerous differences.
The first three differences between the alligator and crocodile are not in physical appearance. These differences are in their subfamilies, number of species, and the origination of their names. Although the alligator and crocodile are both reptiles, the alligator belongs to the alligatorinae subfamily and the crocodile to the crocodylinae subfamily. The alligator and crocodile also differ in their number of species. The alligator has only two different species while the crocodile has twenty- three. The origination’s of their names also come from different phrases and words. The name alligator comes from the Spanish phrase “el lagar to” and the name crocodile comes from the Greek word “Krokodeilos.”
The alligator and crocodile are different in size and snout shape. The average crocodile tends to grow eighteen to nineteen feet in length and the alligator grows to an average of fourteen to fifteen feet in length. The alligator also has a wide “U” shaped snout. Their snouts are very strong, and are capable of withstanding the great crushing power for cracking open turtles and hard-shelled invertebrates. The crocodile has a longer, more pointed “V” shaped snout. Their snouts are not quite as strong as the alligators, but are still able of exerting massive biting power.
Other differences between the crocodile and alligator are salt glands, sensory pits, and their skin. Functioning salt glands on the tongue are only found on crocodiles. The alligator lacks these salt glands along with small, sensory pits covering the entire body surface of the crocodile. The skin of the crocodile also has a small spot or dimple close to the edge. This feature is not present on the alligator.
Another difference in the alligator and crocodile are their geographic locations. Alligators are only found in America, except for a small part of China known as the Yangtze River Valley. The crocodile on the other hand can be found in Africa, Southeast Asia, New Guinea, Australia, and a small part of America.
The most obvious way to distinguish the alligator and crocodile from each other is the structure of their mouth and teeth. The alligator’s upper jaw is wider than the lower jaw and overlaps it. The crocodile’s upper and lower jaws are approximately the same width and the upper jaw sits evenly on the lower jaw. Also in the mouth is the most significant difference. The fourth tooth, which is present in the crocodile overbite, is not seen in the alligator. The fourth tooth of the crocodile sticks out and resembles a smile. The fourth tooth of the alligator stays inside the mouth. This has been the way most researchers and onlookers tell the difference between the two reptiles.
In conclusion, although the alligator and crocodile are very similar in physical appearance, the differences are quite obvious when pointed out. They are both scaly reptiles but are two completely different animals. They look different, act different, and are found in different areas of the world, but still the most common question asked to alligator and crocodile researchers is what the difference is between the two reptiles.