CSL
Crocodylus acutus (CUVIER, 1807)


NAMES | DISTRIBUTION | HABITAT | STATUS | APPEARANCE | IMAGES | DIET | BREEDING | CONSERVATION

FAMILY:
ALLIGATORIDAE

A. mississippiensis
A. sinensis
C. crocodilus
C. c. apaporiensis
C. c. fuscus
C. latirostris
C. yacare
M. niger
P. palpebrosus
P. trigonatus

FAMILY: CROCODYLIDAE

C. acutus
C. intermedius
C. johnstoni
C. mindorensis
C. moreletii
C. niloticus
C. novaeguineae
C. palustris
C. porosus
C. rhombifer
C. siamensis
M. cataphractus
O. tetraspis
T. schlegelii

FAMILY:
GAVIALIDAE

G. gangeticus

DICHOTOMOUS KEY
[German]

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STATUS OF INFORMATION:
This information was most-recently updated January 2009 and is considered up-to-date. Please contact me directly regarding updates or corrections.

COMMON NAMES:
American crocodile, Cocodrilo americano, Crocodile d'Amérique, Caimán de Aguja, Central American alligator, Cocodrilo de Rio, Crocodile à museau pointu, Lagarto Amarillo, Lagarto Real, Llaman Caimán, South American alligator, American saltwater crocodile

NAME ETYMOLOGY:
> Crocodylus is derived from the Greek krokodeilos which means literally "pebble worm" (kroko = pebble; deilos = worm, or man) referring to the appearance of a crocodile.
> acutus means "sharp" or "pointed" (Latin), referring to the shape of the snout

DISTRIBUTION:
[CLICK ON MAP FOR DETAILED RANGE]
Distribution map Southern United States, Central and South America: Belize, Cayman Islands (Extinct), Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Hispaniola, Honduras, Jamaica, Margarita (poss.), Martinique (poss.), Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Trinidad (poss.), United States (extreme south Florida), Venezuela

HABITAT:
Both freshwater (including river, lakes and reservoirs) and brackish coastal habitats (including tidal estuaries, coastal lagoons and mangrove swamps). A large population is present in Lago Enriquillo (Dominican Republic), a landlocked hyper-saline lake. Crocodiles in these conditions osmoregulate primarily by drinking available freshwater. Possibly the most unusual location is a population which occupies the brackish water cooling canals at the Turkey Point nuclear power plant in Florida. This species also constructs long burrows for aestivation and as a retreat from adverse conditions. Considerable overland distances can also be travelled in search of new habitats.

STATUS:
     CITES: Appendix I
     IUCN Red List: VU A1ac (VULNERABLE)
     Estimated wild population: 10,000 to 20,000
Summary: Gradually recovering in the US, but relatively poor survey data in Central and South America indicate some populations stable but others declining.

APPEARANCE:
[click on image for enlargement]
Head drawing One of the larger crocodilian species. Males typically reach 5 metres, with reports of 6 and even 7 metre animals (unconfirmed). Dorsal armour is irregular and much reduced in comparison with other species. There is a distinctive swelling in front of each eye, visible in all except the hatchlings. Juveniles are lighter coloured (light tan) than more mature animals, with banding on the body and tail. Adults take on an olive brown colour. Iris is silvery.

Dentition codeDENTITION:
5 pre-maxillary; 13-15 maxillary; 15 mandibular
Total no. of teeth = 66-68

IMAGES:
[click on image for enlargement]

Click Adult crocodile viewed from the front Click Post-occipital and nuchal scales Click Teeth erupting through upper jaw

DIET:
Primarily fish, and other aquatic species including turtles and crabs. Also takes birds. Feeds primarily at night. Juveniles take small fish and invertebrates. Often blamed for the disappearance of domestic animals in more populated areas. Occasional reports of attacks on humans, but authenticated records are very rare.

BREEDING:
Females reach sexual maturity at lengths of 2.5 m. Populations adapt their breeding strategy to suit the environment. This species is mainly a hole nester, but populations without access to suitable nest sites which can be excavated (relatively well drained) will build mound nests using whatever nesting materials are available. Flooding creates high mortality. Nesting occurs during the dry season (to minimise flooding, especially in hole nests which are in danger of falling below the water table after heavy rains), following an extended courtship period which can last up to two months. The minimum number of eggs laid in the nest can be around 20 in some populations, but is usually between 30 and 60, the mean being around 38. Nests are often found which contain eggs from two separate females. Hatching, after around 90 days, coincides with the beginning of the annual rains. At hatching, juveniles are around 25 cm in length. The degree of parental care seems to be variable, with some sources noting minimal protection of the nest and the newly hatched juveniles, while others report a higher degree of parental attention, from guarding the nest (a burrow is constructed nearby), to assisting the hatching juveniles and subsequently protecting them (predators include birds, wild cats, raccoons and even large fish). However, it appears that the juveniles move away from the nesting area within a few days of hatching. They have been noted to
vocalise less than other species during the first few weeks of life. It has been suggested that this lack of parental care and early juvenile dispersal is a direct result of the high hunting pressures that the species was subjected to in the second quarter of the century - a rapid adaptation to survive.

CONSERVATION:
Decline in numbers was primarily due to demand for the high-quality skin of this species, mainly from 1930 to 1960 - and it is perhaps ironic that this high-value skin now makes sustainable use management programs feasible. Presently, continuing hunting (on a lesser scale) combined with habitat destruction (e.g. destruction of coastal mangrove habitat in Ecuador for aquaculture) are the most immediate threats. In Nicaragua, for example, illegal hunting occurs during the legal harvesting of caimans.

Although information on population and behavioural ecology is well documented, inadequate survey data are available except in the United States. Current studies will hopefully improve this situation. Presently, it appears that while the species has the most wide-ranging distribution of any New World crocodile, it is depleted to a 'significant' extent over most of its range, particularly so over almost a third of this. In a few areas, populations are considered to be relatively healthy (e.g. Belize and Cuba). C. acutus is completely protected in most countries where it occurs, but the enforcement of this protection is often inadequate - although management programs exist in 8 countries within its range, legislation is ineffective or simply not acted upon. In addition, it can be difficult to distinguish the skin from other crocodilian species, making enforcement more difficult. Other measures include farming and ranching in a small number of countries. This is likely to expand (e.g. Colombia, Jamaica), although the status of wild populations from which stock would no-doubt be taken must be carefully monitored, once basic survey data have been compiled. A percentage of farmed stock should be incorporated into a reintroduction program (this strategy is necessary in Cuba to assist the recovery of wild populations, as farming has been successful). In other areas (e.g. Venezuela), much crocodile habitat exists, but there are few crocodiles remaining. A restocking program would help to ensure the continued survival of these populations. Successful programs include a population of C. acutus at Lago Enriquillo in the Dominican Republic, which has a stable population of around 200 animals, together with a genetic reserve of growing juveniles in captivity. In the US, the Fish and Wildlife service formulated a recovery plan in 1984 for this species, centering around habitat protection and management, regular population surveys, reduction in mortality (increased education, plus other measures such as road crossing culverts) and the consideration of captive propagation. Major threats in the US are from habitat removal (e.g. mangrove swamps outside the Everglades National Park) and direct human disturbance (e.g. shooting, road-kills, gill-net fishing, vandalism and other disturbance of nests) which, although low, may be higher than the recruitment rate of the remaining crocodile population. In 1993, 34 nests were recorded in Florida, and the number is steadily growing.

MORE INFORMATION:
For more information on distribution and conservation issues for this species,see the CSG
Action Plan resource.

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES:

  • Campbell, HW (1972). Ecological or physiological interpretations of crocodilian nesting habits. Nature 238: 404-405
  • Departamento de Vida Silvestre (1993). Estudio y Protecion del Cocodrilo Americano (Crocodylus acutus) en la Republica Dominicana. Secretaria de Estado de Agricultura, Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. 209 pp.
  • Kushlan, JA & Mazotti, F (1989). Historic and present distribution of the American crocodile in Florida. J. Herpetol. 23(1): 1-7
  • Kushlan, JA & Mazotti, F (1989). Population biology of the American crocodile. J. Herpetol. 23(1): 7-21
  • Medem, F (1981). Los Crocodylia de Sur America. Vol. 1. Los Crocodylia de Colombia. Colciencias, Bogota. 354 pp.
  • Moler, P & Abercrombie, C (1992). Growth and survival of Crocodylus acutus in South Florida, USA. In: Crocodiles. Proceedings of the 11th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. p.14
  • Schubert, A (1994). Conservation of American crocodile. Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter 13(3): 14
  • Thorbjarnarson, J (1989). Ecology of the American crocodile, Crocodylus acutus. In: Crocodiles. Their Ecology, Management and Conservation. A Special Publication of the Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp. 228-258
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