King of the crocs: discover all 23 species of crocodilians

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.


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 17.51.25


Screen Shot 2016-01-19 at 17.52.12



Read next:

Can rabbits see behind them without turning around?

Why you shouldn’t sneak up on your cat with a cucumber

The secret life of manatees

Don’t want to miss out? Become a digital reader today, order back issues, or subscribe for a great deal. Find us on Facebook here: search and on Twitter here: search to keep in touch and up to date