See You Later, Alligator. After While, Crocodile.
Crocodiles vs. Alligators… what’s the difference?
It’s time to unlock the mystery of crocodiles and alligators! Those who are unable to differentiate between crocodiles and alligators often refer to the two interchangeably. It’s an honest mistake, as the differences aren’t widely known and are hard to spot to an untrained eye. Let our experts at the Memphis Zoo break it down!
Size ’em up
Although crocodiles and alligators can both grow to be up to 20 feet in length, their body weight differs greatly. The Nile crocodiles that are on exhibit in the Zoo’s Zambezi River Hippo Camp can weigh up to 1,600 pounds! Alligators, on the other hand, come in at about 1,000 pounds less, usually topping out around 600 pounds.
Show me your snout
The easiest way to tell crocs and gators apart is to take a look at the shape of their jaws – from a distance, of course. Crocodiles’ jaws are long and narrow, while alligators’ are broad and shovel-shaped. This difference is due in part to the diets of the two. Though alligators do dine on soft prey at times, they typically hunt down animals with tough exteriors like turtles and hard-shelled invertebrates. Because of this, their jaws are designed to withstand the stress of chomping down with massive force. Crocodiles, on the other hand, enjoy a wide variety of food sources, so their jaws are shaped to endure both hard and soft meals. The pointed snout allows catching fish (and other prey) to be like child’s play.
If you ever get close enough to check out a crocodile’s or alligator’s grin, step back… waaaaay back. However, checking out these things is easy at the Zoo, especially in Zambezi where there are underwater viewing panels that allow guests to get up close and personal with the Nile crocs.
Crocodiles like to let the world know they’re dangerous. Their top and bottom jaws are nearly identical in width, so both the top and bottom rows of teeth usually show when their mouths are closed. Alligators are a little more modest. The upper jaw is wider than the lower, so only the top row of teeth is visible.
What remains the same between the two species is the fourth lower tooth. Enlarged and prominent on both crocodiles and alligators, it disappears by going into a pocket in the upper jaw when an alligator closes its mouth. The tooth sits on the outside of the mouth and remains clearly visible when a crocodiles’ mouth is closed, however.
Next time you take a visit to the Memphis Zoo, take your family and friends to the Herpetarium to check out our American alligators and to Zambezi to view our four Nile crocodiles. Let them know what you’ve learned! If you’d like to see a special feeding for the Nile crocs, visit on Saturdays at TIME. The way they dive down to the bottom of their pool and shoot up out of the water like a rocket is unlike anything you’ve seen before!