Alligator vs Crocodile: What’s the Difference?

Imagine this, you are canoeing on a river during a sweltering afternoon and you see what looks like a floating log on murky waters. Without warning, it starts moving closer and you see eyes poking above the water and all over a sudden, it is looking at you. And though you know its time to get out of there as fast as you can, quickly telling the difference of alligator vs. crocodile is super important. Well, that’s pretty understandable because these two reptiles have a lot in common. However, these two reptiles are very different more so when it comes to their appearance. But before we can get there, let’s have a look at their similarities.


Both are big reptiles that lay eggs, have webbed feet, strong tails big teeth, and thick skin with bony scales. They are also cold-blooded which implies that they do not generate their own body heat. Moreover, both crocodiles and alligators live in or near water sources such as marshes, rivers, and lakes plus they all like swimming. In terms of what they eat, they are all carnivores meaning that they eat meat which they get by hunting in the water and also dry land. Some of their favorite prey includes birds, deer, fish, turtles, wild pigs, and birds.

From the similarities above, it is easy to see why anyone would find it hard to distinguish between these two reptiles. Even so, it is not that difficult, as any good tutor will tell you. Having said that, let’s have a look at some of these differences. Pay attention because these are what will help you distinguish each positively.

Now Let’s See the Differences in an Alligator vs Crocodile Matchup

It is not uncommon for people to interchangeably use the words crocodile and alligator to describe any big lizard that dwells in water. What they don’t realize is that though these two reptiles have a fair share of similarities, they don’t behave or look the same. Moreover, they don’t belong to the same biological family.

Eight Ways to Tell the Difference

  1. The shape of the snout. If you look closely, the alligator’s snout is U shaped and wide while that of a crocodile is V-shaped and somewhat sharp. Location. Alligators are only found in parts of the US and China, whereas
  2. Habitat. Most crocodiles prefer living in water is sot of saline or salty while alligators are perfect in freshwater habitats such as rivers and lakes.
  3. Toothy Grin. A crocodile’s teeth are always exposed even when the mouth is closed but alligators can conceal their teeth when their mouths are shut.
  4. A fully grown crocodile is several feet longer than an adult alligator. This means that generally, crocodiles are bigger than alligators.
  5. Color. A crocodile’s skin is normally lighter than of most alligators.
  6. Speed. Both in water and on land, crocodiles are slower than alligators. Perhaps this can be attributed to the fact that they are bulkier.
  7. Behavior. Crocodiles are very aggressive when compared to alligators. In fact, they are responsible for several deaths. On the hand, alligators are more docile and tame.

After understanding these differences, you will be in a better position to tell them apart. Each of them is explained into details below.

Alligators and Crocodiles Have Different Snouts

The most prominent and conspicuous difference between alligators and crocodiles is the snout. That of a crocodile is V-shaped, it is also longer and narrower. For an alligator, the snout is U shaped and it is also wider and blunt. The alligator’s snout is shaped this way perhaps due to the nature of its diet. This snout helps it break turtle shells while the sharper V-shaped snout for a crocodile is adapted to hunting general prey such as fish, mammals, and reptiles.

Where Do Alligators and Crocodiles Live?

Alligators are normally found in eastern China and the southeastern USA while crocodiles can be found in Africa, South East Asia, Australia, South America, and Central America. Therefore, if you are living in the United States, chances are that you are likely to encounter an alligator than a crocodile. However, there are also crocodile species that can be found in Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Carolina Louisiana, Arkansas, and Texas.

Habitat: Freshwater or Saltwater?

Crocodiles have evolved special salt glands on their tongues which helps them excrete excess salt from their bodies. This makes it possible for them to inhabit both salt water and fresh water. Though in the alligator vs crocodile match up, alligators also have these glands, they are not that effective so they prefer living only in fresh water. This difference explains why crocodiles have been able to colonize several parts of the world.

They Have Different Teeth

The easiest way to tell a crocodile and alligator apart is when their snouts are closed. For an alligator, no teeth are visible at the bottom of the mouth while the crocodile’s lower teeth are prominently visible. This means that crocodiles have several teeth sticking above their lips which gives them a very jagged smile. For an alligator, there is no such smile because it can hide its teeth when the snout is closed.

Which Are Bigger: Alligators or Crocodiles?

Adult crocodiles can reach a whopping 19 feet long. Alligators are relatively smaller since they can only reach a maximum length of 14 feet.

Color Differences

Like previously stated, crocodiles have a relatively light tan whereas alligators are normally blackish grey or dark. This color variation is determined with where each swim. And since alligators prefer fresh water, algae that grow there makes them greener while tannic acid that comes from overhanging trees makes them appear darker.

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

Both of these reptiles can move fast on land but that is limited to only short bursts. They can also sprint or gallop though this is only when they are threatened. On land, crocodiles can achieve a maximum speed of 9mph while alligators can get to 11mph.

When underwater, both are very fast and agile. This can be attributed to their strong and long tails that help them swim faster. Alligators are faster in water and can reach a maximum speed of 20mph while crocodiles can get to 9mph.

Which Is More Aggressive: An Alligator or a Crocodile?

Though alligators are dangerous, they are generally timid and less aggressive when compared to crocodiles. Most of the time alligators will escape from human beings and other threats. They only attack when unexpectedly provoked, disturbed or when defending their young ones.

But though alligator’s natively fear humans, they can lose this fear as a result of regular contact. Therefore, unless you are in a controlled situation such as a park never attempt to feed. They can also mistake pet dogs and children for prey so it is best to keep off their territory.

On the other hand, crocodiles are very aggressive and they will attack human beings even when not provoked. Saltwater crocodiles from Australia are considered as the most aggressive followed by Nile crocodiles. However, American crocodiles are very timid and rarely attack human beings. As a matter of fact, you are more likely to be attacked by an alligator than a crocodile in America.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are crocodiles and alligators the same species?

Both belong to the Crocodilia family which is a classification of big, semiaquatic reptiles which include crocodiles, alligators, and gharai. All of them are known as crocodilians but only a handful of them are real crocodiles. They are not closely related in such a way that can interbreed.

Alligator vs. Crocodile: Which is stronger?

Many people often ask if the two reptiles fought which would emerge as the ultimate winner. Well, crocodiles can grow to be very big and their bite is the strongest in the animal kingdom. This gives them more power and they would definitely win in a fight.

When it comes to size, crocodiles are the winners. The largest one weighed 2000 pounds and was over 23 feet long. The biggest gator weighs only 1000 pounds and is only 19 feet long. Finally, crocodiles are also the more aggressive of the two. This means that are more likely to attack people and other animals even when not provoked.

Which are more dangerous to humans?

It goes without saying that crocodiles are more dangerous to humans and other animals. The most dangerous is the Nile crocodile which kills thousands of people in Africa. The Australian saltwater crocodile is also very aggressive but its limited encounters and interaction with human beings make it less dangerous.

There you have it, let’s hope that when you’re needing to work out the identity of an alligator vs crocodile, it’s not when one is seeing you as their next dinner. Please ask your questions in the comments section below.

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