The 8 Main Differences Between Alligators and Crocodiles

Updated on April 5, 2018
PaulGoodman67 profile image

Since completing university, Paul has worked as a librarian, teacher, and freelance writer. Born in the UK, he currently lives in Florida.

Source

Many people are unaware that there's a difference between alligators and crocodiles and use both terms interchangeably to describe any large water-dwelling lizard with big teeth. What they don't realize is that, despite some similarities, the two reptiles don't look or behave the same. They also belong to different biological families.

So what's the difference between alligators and crocodiles? Here are eight ways to tell them apart:

  1. Shape of the snout. The crocodile's snout is pointed and V-shaped, and the alligator's is wide and U-shaped.
  2. Location. Alligators are only found in parts of the US and China, whereas crocodiles can be found across the world. Scroll down for more information about where you'll find each.
  3. Habitat. Crocodiles prefer water that is more saline or salty than the alligator's preferred freshwater habitat.
  4. Toothy grin. Crocodiles can't hide their teeth, but alligators' teeth are sometimes hidden when their mouths are closed.
  5. Size. A full-grown crocodile will likely be several feet longer than an adult alligator.
  6. Color. Crocodiles are generally lighter in color than alligators.
  7. Speed. On land and in water, crocodiles are usually slower than alligators.
  8. Behavior. In terms of aggression, an alligator might seem tame compared to a crocodile.

Once you understand the differences, it is actually pretty easy to tell them apart. I explore each of these differences in detail below.

Note the pointed, v-shape of this crocodile's snout. The alligator's snout is more wide, rounded, and shaped like a U.
Note the pointed, v-shape of this crocodile's snout. The alligator's snout is more wide, rounded, and shaped like a U. | Source

1. Alligators and Crocodiles Have Different Snouts

One of the main differences between alligators and crocodiles is the snout.

The alligator's is broader and shaped like a U, whereas the crocodile’s is longer and narrower and more V-shaped.

It's very possible that the alligator's snout shape is different because of diet, especially breaking open turtle shells, whereas the crocodile’s snout is more suited to hunting general prey including fish, reptiles, and mammals.

The alligator's snout is a more rounded U shape. The differences in snouts probably evolved due to dietary differences, with alligators needing to crack open turtle shells.
The alligator's snout is a more rounded U shape. The differences in snouts probably evolved due to dietary differences, with alligators needing to crack open turtle shells. | Source

2. Where Do Alligators and Crocodiles Live?

Alligators live only in the southeastern US and eastern China, whereas crocodiles can be found across the world in Africa, Australia, Southeast Asia, North America, South America, and Central America.

If you are in the US, then you are far more likely to encounter an alligator than a crocodile. Although there is an American crocodile species, they only live in the southernmost tip of Florida, whereas alligators can be found across Florida and Louisiana, as well as in parts of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North and South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Alligators also heavily outnumber crocodiles in the US. There are over 3 million alligators, but fewer than 2,000 crocodiles. Southern Florida is the only place in the world where you will find crocodiles and alligators living side by side.

A young alligator by the water in Florida.  Alligators vastly outnumber crocodiles in the US. As well as forming a bigger population, they also inhabit a much wider geographical area, with crocodiles only present the southern tip of the state.
A young alligator by the water in Florida. Alligators vastly outnumber crocodiles in the US. As well as forming a bigger population, they also inhabit a much wider geographical area, with crocodiles only present the southern tip of the state. | Source

3. Habitat: Freshwater or Saltwater?

Crocodiles have special glands in their tongues which excrete excess salt from their bodies. This means that they are capable of spending days, or even weeks, at sea.

Alligators also have these glands but they don’t work as well, so they usually stick to freshwater habitats, although they can sometimes be found in brackish water (a mixture of salt and freshwater).

This difference explains why crocodiles have managed to spread across the islands of the Caribbean, and alligators haven't.

Notice that the snout of this adult crocodile looks pointed and some of the teeth on the lower jaw are clearly visible, despite the mouth being closed.
Notice that the snout of this adult crocodile looks pointed and some of the teeth on the lower jaw are clearly visible, despite the mouth being closed. | Source

4. They Have Different Teeth

When their mouths are closed, the snouts of alligators and crocodiles are easy to tell apart, as the alligator will have none of its bottom teeth visible, whereas the crocodile’s lower fourth tooth can always be seen.

Crocodiles often have many visible teeth sticking out over their lips, giving them a very jagged "smile," but since an alligator's upper jaw is wider than its lower, it can hide all its teeth when its mouth is closed.

Here's a close-up of the crocodile's teeth with its mouth shut.
Here's a close-up of the crocodile's teeth with its mouth shut. | Source

5. Which Are Bigger: Alligators or Crocodiles?

An adult crocodile can grow up to roughly 19 feet long, whereas for alligators, the maximum length is around 14 feet.

An alligator in Florida: Notice that the hide is a very dark gray color. The color of a gator's hide varies according to the water it swims in. Algae makes them greener, and tannic acid from the overhanging trees makes them darker.
An alligator in Florida: Notice that the hide is a very dark gray color. The color of a gator's hide varies according to the water it swims in. Algae makes them greener, and tannic acid from the overhanging trees makes them darker. | Source

6. Color Differences

Crocodile hides tend to be more of a light tan or olive color, whereas alligators are usually a dark blackish grey.

(The exact shade of an alligator skin depends on the quality of the water it swims in. Tannic acid from overhanging trees will make them darker, algae will make them greener).

A young alligator basking. As they get older, their hides gradually lose their stripey pattern and become darker.
A young alligator basking. As they get older, their hides gradually lose their stripey pattern and become darker. | Source

7. Which Runs and Swims Faster: An Alligator or a Crocodile?

On Land: Both can can move quickly on land, but only for short distances. They can both "gallop" or "sprint" but only do it when threatened, and not for long. A crocodile might reach almost 9 mph (14kph), while an alligator might reach a maximum speed of about 11 mph (18 kph).

In Water: They're both much more agile and fast in water where they can use their long, muscular tails to propel their bodies forward. When crocodiles swim, they might reach speeds of about 9 mph (15 kph), while alligators might reach a maximum of 20 mph (32 kph).

Did you know?

Fatalities from alligator attacks in the US are actually very rare. The average annual fatality rate for death by alligator in the US is actually only 0.3. That means on average, one person dies every three years. That's a very small figure when you consider how many people and alligators there are in southeastern US. The truth is that you are more likely to be killed by a dog, a bee or wasp sting, spider bite, rattlesnake, mountain lion, or shark.

8. Which Is More Aggressive: An Alligator or a Crocodile?

Alligators, while definitely dangerous, are relatively timid compared to crocodiles. An alligator will generally try to escape if approached by humans, usually heading for the nearest water.

The only time that wild alligators will attack humans is if they are unexpectedly disturbed, provoked, or defending their young.

Alligators are instinctively afraid of humans but can lose some of that fear with regular contact. Except in controlled conditions, feeding them is almost always a bad idea as they will lose some of their fear and see humans as a source of food. They can also mistake small children and pet dogs for prey.

Crocodiles, on the other hand, are much more bad-tempered and far more likely to attack humans, even unprovoked.

Australian saltwater crocodiles are generally considered the most dangerous in the world, followed by Nile crocodiles. American crocodiles, on the other hand, are one of the more timid types that you will find and rarely attack humans. In the US, you are more likely to be attacked by an alligator than a crocodile, although attacks by either are very rare.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are alligators and crocodiles the same species?

Crocodilia is an order of large, semiaquatic, predatory reptiles that includes alligators, caimans, gharai, and crocodiles. These are all known as "crocodilians," but only some are true crocodiles, and they're not related closely enough to interbreed.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Which is stronger? If they fought, who would win?

Crocodiles can grow bigger than gators, and their bites can be more lethal.

Crocodiles might win for bite strength alone. The strongest have a bite pressure that measures 3,700 pounds per square inch, while the strongest alligators' bites are about 2,900.

In terms of size, crocodiles win again. The biggest recorded croc was about 2,000 pounds and over 23 feet long, while the largest recorded gator was about 1,000 pounds and 19 feet long.

Lastly, in terms of aggression, crocodiles would still win, as they are much more aggressive and likely to attack, even if unprovoked.

Which are more dangerous to humans?

According to CrocBITE, a database that keeps track of crocodilian attacks worldwide, the Nile crocodile is the one humans should be the most afraid of. Since the year 2000, there have been 33 human fatalities caused by American gators and crocodiles combined compared to 268 caused by Nile crocodiles alone.

© 2011 Paul Goodman

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    • profile image

      Jahzara 5 days ago

      This was nice

    • profile image

      julian 8 days ago

      thanks alot.

    • profile image

      Australian Hunta Mate' 8 days ago

      I have seen every species of croc. You got the green ones, the ones who try to go for ya package, the fiesty ones, and you can't forget the momma crocs. Each one is pretty dangerous mate'. I can't believe anyone could not see the difference between a mean ol croc and an alligator mate'. It's plain out silly. I have seen everything in the outback. The old alligators are nothin' but little lizards to me mate'.

    • profile image

      bill 9 days ago

      thxs this has helped me understand

    • profile image

      cool dude 3 weeks ago

      cool information

    • profile image

      Hadlie Baxter 3 weeks ago

      thx so much

    • profile image

      jeffy 3 weeks ago

      this has helped

    • profile image

      blup 3 weeks ago

      ok now i know what the differences are thxs

    • profile image

      tori lewis 3 weeks ago

      thxs this helped me

    • profile image

      Charley 3 weeks ago

      Thanks for the awesome info

    • profile image

      lebron james 3 weeks ago

      this has been the best teaching ever thank you

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 2 months ago from Florida USA

      Habitat is Number 3.

    • profile image

      jarvis 2 months ago

      you missed out the habitat section which was supposed to be No. 2

    • profile image

      Me 2 months ago

      THANK YOU!!! Makes homework so much easier.

    • profile image

      Aareev 2 months ago

      Thanks you helped me on my english project.

    • profile image

      entiy303/herobrien 2 months ago

      thanks for your help!

    • profile image

      James 2 months ago

      Thanks helped me on my essay!

    • profile image

      Benjamin Lynn 2 months ago

      THIS WAS SO USEFUL THANK YOU

    • profile image

      Tala 3 months ago

      It is really helpful ! Thx

    • profile image

      merl 3 months ago

      yes got it, thanks

    • profile image

      Croc Expert 3 months ago

      The author left out the most important distinction: if he'll see you later, then its an alligator. If it's after a while, then it's a crocodile. :)

    • profile image

      Makenzie 4 months ago

      this sit is amazing!

    • profile image

      Elainel Morel 4 months ago

      Thanks for the information

    • profile image

      Angel 4 months ago

      IT HELPED me a lot in my studies !!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Mahdes 4 months ago

      HI

      I give thanks for this helpful article. the next 2 days i'm going to give a presentation to my ecology teacher and guess what's the topic? differences between alligators and crocodiles!

    • profile image

      Jonathan Schweitzer 5 months ago

      A croc swam from Dania Beach(FL) over to Hollywood Beach(FL) before being retrieved by Fish&Game on 11/20/2017.

    • profile image

      Ethan 5 months ago

      Helped while doing venn giagram

    • profile image

      Jacob 5 months ago

      Helped me a lot with my speech for school, thank you!

    • profile image

      Megan 5 months ago

      Those were some snazzy turtles

    • profile image

      Babar Dharani 5 months ago

      Great write-up! Thank you

    • profile image

      Shubhadeep Roy 5 months ago

      I love crocodiles

    • profile image

      abbi 6 months ago

      It is a wonderful website which teaches us about animals.I'm proud of this website

    • profile image

      Mike 6 months ago

      Not sure what metric you are using for comparison but as far as pure strength is concerned, Crocs have a stronger bite than gators--as long as you are comparing similar size specimens. A gator does have a bigger mouth (which is one reason they have less bite pressure--the force is spread over a larger area) so may be fair to say they have a more devastating bite overall. Also, croc jaw muscles are about 1/3 larger (again, this is for similar sized specimens). Crocs win the bite force comparison by a factor of about 2.

    • profile image

      Jose 6 months ago

      Used this to do a speech in my college class, was very helpful thanks dude

    • profile image

      Daryl 7 months ago

      Alligators are fast, got chased by one while on bike. I was able to pull away, alligator then gave up, went back in woods.

    • profile image

      Barkat Ali Swati 8 months ago

      It's really good. I 've some doubts about them that were cleared now. Thanks

    • profile image

      Ahmed Shareef 8 months ago

      Thanks for this information because I really need this information for my studies

    • profile image

      Steve 9 months ago

      I live in Zimbabwe. We have Lake Kariba which is a fresh water lake. There are millions of crocodiles there. There used to only be 1 per square metre. Now there's like 10 per square metre in a Lake that is 223km x 40km (22300m x 4000m)

    • profile image

      Peter 9 months ago

      That was very informative! Thanks.

      See a pointy nose and teeth...get gone!

    • profile image

      Snapdragon 3 10 months ago

      I've seen on other videos that another differences is how they open the jaws to caught prey. One open the upper jaw while the other open the lower jaw. Is this true and which is which?

    • profile image

      Agnieska 10 months ago

      My 5 years old daughter easy spots differences :) and im wondering where did she learn that if she didn't start school yet. Today in another Zoo again she didn't miss and I wanted to cry beeing such stupud - thx for the lecture!

    • profile image

      Julia 10 months ago

      I was left a little confused. The article seems to contradict itself several times, sometimes within one sentence.

    • profile image

      Mike baker 10 months ago

      I love crocodile meat

    • profile image

      bob smith 11 months ago

      it helped me alot

    • profile image

      Seleena 11 months ago

      these are really interesting facts but very dangerous.

    • profile image

      unknow 11 months ago

      do you know anyone that has been attacked by either one

    • Laetitea profile image

      Laetitea Halin 19 months ago from Estoril / Metz

      Here we have a good explanation. In fact, many people confuse crocodiles, alligators and caimans.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 3 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      thanks for telling us the differences. Alligators are not so wild as crocs

    • Tom Mukasa profile image

      Tom Mukasa 4 years ago from Lives in USA

      Thanks. I do admire those who came before us and who without technology such as night vision video recorders, nor cameras nor guns were able to observe animals as they grazed, fed and protected their young. Thanks once again for throwing more light on the Alligator and Crocodile. I wonder which of the two would sleep with mouth open without fear of its tongue being a meal for another? These are two animals that terrorize others in the waters!

    • Rebecca E. profile image

      Rebecca E. 4 years ago from Canada

      well can't say i didn't learn anything here. All the more reason to avoid an alligator.

    • profile image

      Jackson 4 years ago

      thanks people, im doing a report and this was far better then any other website

    • profile image

      Howard 4 years ago

      This made my homework way easier

    • profile image

      keldrick 5 years ago

      crocodilias are cool

    • profile image

      Rikki Lowe 6 years ago

      Thanks for the information! You helped me a lot!!! :)

    • profile image

      bla 6 years ago

      it helps

    • profile image

      CoryMladen 6 years ago

      For me both are charming, well I won't dare to get closer to them :)

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 6 years ago from Florida USA

      Alligators are actually pretty timid and will try to run/swim away if approached. I think it's still best to be wary of them, as they have a bonecrushing bite! :-)

    • MsQuestion profile image

      MsQuestion 6 years ago from New Jersey

      Okay! I always wondered what the difference was! If I see either one,though, I'm running away! (Although here in New York..probably NOT going to happen).

    • profile image

      klarawieck 6 years ago

      Great hub! I love watching them in the Everglades, which is the only place in the world where alligators and crocodiles coexist.

      Now about the turtles... true those alligators can crush their shells, but they surely like to surf and sunbathe on top of those sleeping logs!

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 7 years ago from Florida USA

      Thank you for pointing out the video problem, Will. I have now replaced it! :-)

    • profile image

      Will Apse 7 years ago

      Your second vid comes up as 'private' which is a shame- the first one was great.

      I enjoyed the rest of the page, too.

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 7 years ago from Florida USA

      Thank you very much for your kind words and the podcast feature, Simone. I am honored by your interest in my work! :-)

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 7 years ago from San Francisco

      Heya PaulGoodman67! I just wanted to say that the HP Staff and I loved this post so much, we featured it in a podcast to discuss it and introduce it to more people! You can find the podcast here: http://blog.hubpages.com/2011/04/alligators-vs-cro...

      Props on the fantastic Hub!

    • theherbivorehippi profile image

      theherbivorehippi 7 years ago from Holly, MI

      Well this clears up any confusion! Thanks...such fascinating creatures (both of them)!

    • GPSWorldTraveler profile image

      GPSWorldTraveler 7 years ago from Washington State, USA

      Amazing creatures, thanks for the clarification... still probably would run like the dickens if I saw one meandering down the road :)

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 7 years ago from Florida USA

      Thank you for your kind words, Shai.

    • shai77 profile image

      Chen 7 years ago

      You have wonderful and interesting Hubs.

      Loved it!!!

    • PaulGoodman67 profile image
      Author

      Paul Goodman 7 years ago from Florida USA

      Well, I certainly wouldn't advise cuddling one of them, that's for sure! :-)

    • networkandy profile image

      networkandy 7 years ago from Connecticut

      wither way they both scary animals lol

    working