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American Crocodile

Central America

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Crocodylus acutus

Endangered

  • This species was hunted and overexploited for its hides in the 1930s until it was protected in the 1970s, however, illegal hunting still occurs.
  • It is also threatened by habitat degradation from coastal development, including destruction of nesting grounds and the destruction of mangrove swamps for shrimp aquaculture.

The American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is a species of crocodilian found in the Neotropics. It is the most widespread of the four extant species of crocodiles from the Americas, with populations present from South Florida and the coasts of Mexico to as far south as Peru and Venezuela. The habitat of the American crocodile consists largely of coastal areas. It is also found in river systems, but tends to prefer salinity, resulting in the species congregating in brackish lakes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, cays, and small islands. Other crocodiles also have tolerance to saltwater due to salt glands underneath the tongue, but the American crocodile is the only species other than the saltwater crocodile to commonly live and thrive in saltwater. They can be found on beaches and small island formations without any freshwater source, such as some of the many cays and islets across the Bahamas and the Caribbean. They are also found in hypersaline lakes; one of the largest known populations inhabits the Lago Enriquillo. The American is one of the larger crocodile species. Males can reach lengths of 6.1 m (20 ft 0 in), weighing up to 907 kg (2,000 lb). On average, mature males are more in the range of 2.9 to 4.1 m (9 ft 6 in to 13 ft 5 in) in length weighing up to about 400 kg (880 lb). As with other crocodile species, females are smaller; rarely exceeding 3.8 m (12 ft 6 in) in length even in the largest-bodied population.

American crocodiles, unlike American alligators, are extremely susceptible to cold temperatures and live exclusively within tropical waters. During 2009, unusually cold weather in southern Florida resulted in the deaths of about 150 wild American crocodiles, including a well-known crocodile that inhabited Sanibel Island, far north of the species’ natural range. Large group of American crocodiles in Cuba.

American crocodiles in the United States coexist with the American alligator, and are primarily found south of the latitude of Miami, in Everglades National Park, Florida Bay, Biscayne Bay, and the Florida Keys. A sizable population occurs near Homestead, at the Turkey Point Nuclear Generating Station. Some individuals have been sighted in Palm Beach, Pinellas and Sarasota counties. In the summer of 2008, an American crocodile was captured in the surf on Isle of Palms, South Carolina. The American crocodile is saltwater-tolerant and have thus been capable of colonizing a multitude of islands within the Caribbean islands and on some coastal Pacific islands as well. They coexist with the smaller spectacled caiman within Central America. The only other crocodiles present within the American crocodile’s range are the Morelet’s crocodile and the critically endangered Cuban crocodile.