From the dwarf to the caiman, discover all 23 species of crocodilians, some ginormous, some ferocious and some downright bizarre
With their bony plates, muscular tails, sharp teeth and disc-like scales, cold-blooded crocodilians look positively prehistoric. But it is perhaps to be expected given these thick-skinned reptiles date back to the Mesozoic period which began 251 million years ago and roamed the Earth’s scorched lands alongside dinosaurs.
That said, modern-day crocodilians are very different to those of yesteryear. Today they are split into three families: the alligatoridae (which includes alligators and caimans), the crocodylidae and the gharial. Having begun to abandon their terrestrial lifestyles during the Jurassic period, these fearsome egg-laying creatures, hallmarked by their long bodies and bone-crushing, now prefer to live in and near water.
In general, alligators tend to be the larger of the three families, with broad, strong, rounded snouts and a wider, overlapping upper jaw. Crocodiles have narrower, less-strong, pointed snouts with both upper and lower jaws of the same size with a fourth tooth on the lower jaw protruding over its upper lip. Crocs have special salt glands too.
Alligators are therefore better adapted to a freshwater environment and a diet that includes shell-clad creatures while croc jaws are more versatile and happy in saline waters such as estuaries and mangrove swamps. The extreme narrowness of the gharial, meanwhile, is perfect for a fish-based diet. Let’s meet them all.