CSL
Crocodylus rhombifer (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 July 2009 and is considered up-to-date. Please contact me directly regarding updates or corrections.

COMMON NAMES:
Cuban crocodile, Pearly crocodile, Cocodrilo de Cuba, Crocodile de Cuba, Caimán Zaquendo, Cocodrillo, Criollo, Cocodrilo Legitimo, Cocodrilo Perla, Crocodile Rhombifère

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.
> rhombifer apparently refers to the shape of flank scales

SUBSPECIES:
No subspecies, but hybridization with C. acutus may threaten the genetic purity of wild populations. However, recent evidence suggests that naturally-occuring hybridization may exist where sympatry occurs.

DISTRIBUTION:
[CLICK ON MAP FOR DETAILED RANGE]
Distribution map Cuba (Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and recent confirmed in Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud), historical range in the Cayman and Bahama islands (now extinct)

HABITAT:
Freshwater swamp, but may tolerate a degree of salinity.
STATUS:
     CITES: Appendix I
     IUCN Red List: CR A2cde (CRITICALLY ENDANGERED)
     Estimated wild population: 3,000 to 6,000, most likely 4,000
Summary: Drastically reduced distribution compared with former range, continued illegal hunting and hybridization with C. acutus are the major threats. However, conservation action is positive.

APPEARANCE:
[click on image for enlargement]
Head drawing Medium-sized crocodilian, reaching 3.5 m in length (although 5 m individuals have been reported) - slightly smaller than C. acutus. Head is short and broad, and a bony ridge is present behind eyes. Scales forming the dorsal shield (across the back) extend onto the back of the neck, and scales on the legs are unusually large, and heavily keeled on the rear legs. Juveniles possess eyes with a light iris, which is reported to become darker with age. A characteristic yellow and black patterning has led to the name 'Pearly' crocodile. Hybrid crocodiles (with C. acutus, and C. siamensis in farms) exhibit characteristics of both species to varying degrees.

Dentition codeDENTITION:
5 pre-maxillary; 13-14 maxillary; 15 mandibular
Total no. of teeth = 66-68

IMAGES:
[click on image for enlargement]

Click Two reposed adult crocodiles Click Adult female Cuban crocodile in sun Click Adult Cuban crocodile

Click Head of adult crocodile Click Cuban crocodile adult

DIET:
Mainly fish and chelonia, with the occasional small mammal. The teeth at the back of the mouth are broader than those at the front - an adaptation to crush turtles which are part of their diet. Historically believed to have occurred with giant ground sloths, it is believed that the crocodiles show adaptations for dealing with this prey on land - large and powerful rear legs with reduced webbing. They are noted for their terrestrial abilities, which includes a strong 'high-walk' and a propensity for leaping. They have also been documented to feed on arboreal mammals by leaping from the water (using powerful thrusts of their tail from below the surface) and snatching the prey from overhanging tree branches.

BREEDING:
Confusion exists over the actual mode of nesting behaviour. Although they are reported to dig hole nests in the wild, captive crocodiles usually construct a mound nest (which can also occur in the wild). It is likely that either nesting strategy is possible depending on circumstances (e.g. the availability of suitable nesting material). The normal clutch size is between 30 and 40 eggs. Cuban crocodiles frequently hybridise with one or two other species. In the wild, hybridisation with C. acutus has been reported as the end of the C. acutus breeding season overlaps with the start of the C. rhombifer season. Animals on crocodile farms (e.g. in Vietnam) have been reported to hybridize with C. siamensis. In all cases, it is believed that the hybrids are actually fertile and this therefore represents a danger to the genetic purity of the species - mainly in captive breeding programs.

CONSERVATION:
The Cuban crocodile is one of the most threatened New World crocodilian species, primarily because it has such a small and restricted distribution (the smallest of any species, with the possible exception of A. sinensis). The total population in the Zapata Swamp (the main and perhaps only area in which the crocodile occurs) was recently estimated to be between 3000 and 6000 animals in a 300 square kilometre section of the southwestern part of the swamp. Although the species is recovering in numbers, its status remains highly vulnerable. Competition with introduced (i.e. Caiman crocodilus fuscus) and hybridized species has been suggested to have contributed greatly to their decline, in addition to hunting and habitat decline through charcoal burning. Also, information on the ecology of the species in the wild is still very scarce and much baseline information remains unavailable.

Farms were established in the '50s and '60s for skin and meat production, and now a relatively large number of animals are produced annually to satisfy demand. One farm has been given CITES approval to start international trade in skins. Hybridization at the start of the farming project resulting in an impure genetic stock, although a pure stock has since been isolated and there is no genetic flow with the hybridized species. It has also been suggested that all hybridized animals should be brought together and isolated to minimise any further risk. The species is also fairly well represented in captivity in the US. Further work needs to be done to increase to protect the remaining wild population, learn more of its ecology and behaviour, and initiate release programs in other areas to avert the risk of total extirpation if the current Zapata Swamp population disappears.

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

SIGNIFICANT REFERENCES:

  • Franz, R, Morgan, G, Albury, N & Buckner, S (1995). Fossil skeleton of a Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) from a Blue Hole on Abaco, Bahamas. Caribbean J. Sci. 13(1-2): 149-152
  • Ramos, R, de Buffrenil, V & Ross, JP (1994). Current status of the Cuban crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, in the wild. In: Crocodiles. Proceedings of the 12th Working Meeting of the Crocodile Specialist Group. IUCN, Gland, Switzerland. pp. 113-140
  • Varona, LS (1966). Notas sobre los crocodilidos de Cuba y una descripcion de una nueva especie del Pleistocene. Poeyana 16: 1-34
  • Varona, L (1986). Algunos datos sobre etología de Crocodylus rhombifer (Reptilia, Crocodylidae). Poeyana 313: 1-8
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