Alligator vs Crocodile: 10 Simple Differences

Alligators and crocodiles are often confused for being the same animal.

They look very similar, share common behaviors and both belong to the order Crocodilia.

Do not feel alone if you cannot tell the difference between alligators and crocodiles. They are both prehistoric animals that have changed very little over the last 100 million years.

But the truth is crocodiles and alligators belong to completely different families.

Keep reading to learn the differences between an alligator vs crocodile. We also share why it is important to know the differences between these two animals.

10 Differences Between Alligators And Crocodiles

1. Snout Shape

Alligator vs crocodile social
Alligators have U-shaped snouts.

The easiest way to tell the difference between a crocodile vs alligator is by the way their snouts are shaped.

Alligators have a more rounded U-shaped snout that is flat and straight at the front. They all have wide snouts which means they have incredible jaw strength to break through the hard shells of animals such as turtles.

Crocodiles often have a V-shaped snout that is pointed at the front.

Snout shape does change between species so some crocs can have flat, short, toothy snouts that are known as blunted.

However most species of crocodiles have V-shaped snouts. This includes the American crocodile which is the only crocodile that can be found in the United States.

Alligators generally have U-shaped snouts, while crocodiles have V-shaped snouts that are long and slender.

2. Teeth

crocodile vs alligator
You can see both the bottom and top teeth on a crocodile (right).

Alligators have a wider upper jaw which means only their top teeth can be seen when their mouth is closed. This is because the top of their jaw covers the teeth on the lower jaw.

A crocodile’s teeth are always visible, even when its mouth is closed. You will always be able to see both rows of teeth (top and bottom) whether its mouth is open or not.

These upper and lower teeth alternate positions so that all of them are visible and not overlapping.

The 4th tooth on their lower jaw fits into a notch where the bones that form the upper jaw meet. This tooth can always be seen, even when the mouth is closed.

In both species their teeth are generally replaced continuously. They are almost always growing new teeth with new ones growing from the same socket as the old ones. This process eventually slows down and stops in older individuals.

If you see a crocodilian with a U-shaped jaw and teeth only visible on the top, it is an alligator. A crocodilian with a V-shaped jaw and teeth visible on the top and bottom is a crocodile.

3. Jawline

Alligators snout
Alligators have an overbite, and you can only see their top teeth.

The jawlines of alligators and crocodiles are different because of the way their teeth and snouts are shaped.

Alligators have an overbite that is a result of their wide, U-shaped snout.

One easy way to tell if a crocodilian is an alligator is if only the top teeth are showing when the mouth is closed. If only the top teeth are showing when the mouth is closed, it is an alligator.

Crocodiles have an upper and lower jaw that are the same size. This allows their teeth to be exposed on both the top and the bottom. This means the crocodile has a rather toothy grin.

If a crocodilian’s mouth is closed and you cannot see its bottom teeth, it is an alligator!

4. Color

Crocodile vs alligator color
Alligators (left) are a darker black or gray color.

Alligators are normally a darker black or gray color, while crocodiles are often a lighter tan or olive. Crocodiles may also have a speckled pattern that helps them blend in with their surroundings.

The color of an alligator vs crocodile depends on the environments in which they live.

Most alligators are darker shades of gray to help them camouflage in the water while hunting. Their bellies are usually lighter in color in a pattern called countershading.

Crocodiles vary in shades of green, olive and tan. Saltwater species are typically green because they live in environments with more algae.

Some types of crocodiles can slightly change color in response to their environment. They can rearrange their pigments in response to light. Almost like a type of chameleon can!

If the animal is a darker gray or black it is an alligator. If it is a lighter tan, green or olive it is a crocodile.

Alligator and crocodile Colors
Alligator Crocodile
Black Light Tan
Dark Gray Olive

5. Size

Big Crocodile
Crocodiles are 14 to 17 feet on average.

Alligators and crocodiles are among the largest reptiles in the world.

In fact the Australian Saltwater crocodile is the world’s largest living reptile and would have rivalled some types of dinosaurs in size.

Both reptiles can reach massive sizes, but crocodiles are normally bigger when you compare a croc vs alligator.

Alligators are not as big as crocodiles. Females will reach an average length of 8.2 feet, while the average male is 11.2 feet. Both males and females can be much larger and have the potential to weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Some species of croc such as the dwarf are known for being much smaller. However, most saltwater crocodiles are huge. They are the largest reptiles on the planet and can reach lengths of more than 23 feet.

Most crocodiles are between 14 to 17 feet and can weigh well over 2,200 pounds. They are capable of eating just about any animal that comes their way and excel at drowning many birds and mammals.

Most alligators are smaller than crocodiles and can be identified by this shorter length.

Alligator versus crocodile size comparison
Alligator Crocodile
Size 8 to 11 feet 14 to 17 feet
Weight up to 1,000 pounds up to 2,000 pounds

6. Speed

Alligators are fast
Alligators are fast and can reach speeds up to 25 mph in water.

Despite the fact that they are often seen basking in the sun, or slowly swimming through water, these reptiles are fast!

You do not want to be in a position to run away from either of these reptiles. They will catch you easily!

Crocodiles can trot at speeds of 20 miles per hour on land. Alligators are faster and can reach up to speeds of 30 miles per hour.

Alligators and crocodiles can also reach great speeds while swimming. Part of their swimming speed comes from the back and forth motion (i.e. locomotor) of their tail.

Crocs can swim up to 18 miles per hour and alligators can swim up to 25 miles per hour.

It is difficult to tell the difference between alligator vs crocodile based on speed alone. They can both outrun and outswim humans.

Alligators and crocodile speed
Alligator Crocodile
Running 30 mph 20 mph
Swimming 25 mph 18 mph

7. Habitat

alligator vs crocodile
Most crocodiles (right) live in salty water.

Alligators and crocodiles are both reptiles that spend a lot of time both in and out of the water.

It is common to see them basking in the sun or poking their eyes above the surface of the water.

However, when comparing a croc vs alligator they live in very different environments.

Alligators live in freshwater swamps and ponds while crocodiles can be found in bodies of brackish water.

Crocodiles have salt glands on their tongues that excrete salt. This gives them the ability to tolerate water that is high in salinity so they can thrive in saltwater environments.

They spend most of their time in estuaries, rivers, and large lakes with the occasional brackish swamp. Brackish water has a higher salinity than freshwater.

Alligators do not have the same ability to tolerate brackish water.

Occasionally they can be found in slightly brackish water, but not nearly as frequently as crocodiles.

Alligators normally live in freshwater environments such as ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps.

If you are near freshwater bodies such as ponds, lakes, rivers, or marshes, the animal you spot is more likely to be an alligator. If you are in an area with salty, brackish water, it is more likely to be a crocodile.

8. Population

Crocodiles can reach lengths of up to 23 feet

There are approximately 650,000 crocodiles in the world, about 20,000 of those being American Crocodiles in Florida . There are more than 1 million alligators in the United States, all of which are American Alligators.

Crocodiles and alligators have different distributions and ranges throughout the world.

Most crocodiles are found outside of the United States and some species have distributions that range from eastern India to New Guinea and northern Australia. Outside of the United States they live in tropical areas that are low in elevation and are usually a few miles inland.

The American crocodile is the only species to be seen in the United States and can only be found on the southern tip of Florida. This is true for many tropical lizards too.

American crocs can also be found in places such as Hispanioloa, Jamaica, Cuba and Panama.

Alligators can only be found in the United States, Mexico, and China.

The American species is found in all of Florida and Louisiana, the coast of North and South Carolina, southern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi.

Louisiana has a higher alligator population than any other American state.

Southern Florida has both alligators and crocodiles. You can find the American Alligator throughout Florida and you can also find the American Crocodile on the southern tip of Florida, though you will not find both species in the same habitat.

In the United States there are many more alligators than crocodiles.

9. Classification

Alligators size
Alligator

Both reptiles fit into the class Reptilia and order Crocodilia.

However, crocodiles and alligators belong to two completely different families.

Alligators belong to the family Alligatoridae and crocodiles belong to the family Crocodylidae.

The Alligatoridae family contains alligators and a type of crocodilian called a caiman.

There are only two species of alligator in the world which both belong to the same genus. The American Alligator is found in the southeastern United States and Tamaulipas, Mexico. The Chinese alligator can be found along the Yangtze River in eastern China.

Currently there are 17 known species of crocodile across the world. This means there are more species of crocodile than there are alligators.

The only crocodile in the United States is the American, which is found throughout the Caribbean Basin and the southern tip of Florida. Some other well-known species include the Nile and the Saltwater Crocodile.

You cannot physically tell the differences between alligators and crocodiles by knowing which family they belong to.

10. Aggression

Crocodile aggression
Crocodile aggression

Alligators and crocodiles have the potential to be dangerous animals to those that do not respect their space.

Both species have conflicts with humans, though crocodiles are more likely to attack.

Alligators often use short bursts of speed to pull prey underwater. Most of their prey is smaller so that they can kill and eat it in a single bite. The muscles in their powerful jaws are meant to bite and grip prey.

Tourism has led to the slow rise in numbers of alligator attacks in Florida since 1970. This is due to tourists feeding alligators so they lose their fear of humans and are more likely to attack.

Research has shown alligators naturally tend to be more timid around humans. They would rather swim or trot away when humans approach.

Crocodiles are known for being much more dangerous to humans and are more likely to attack.

They are known to strike unprovoked and are not as afraid to defend their territory. The Saltwater and Nile crocodiles are known for being the most dangerous species, followed by the Mugger and the American Crocodile.

Nile Crocodiles have a reputation as an apex predator in Africa. They easily blend into their surroundings and attack fishermen or bathers. Saltwater crocs are widely known for their attacks in northern Australia too.

Crocodiles are aggressive, unpredictable and far more likely to attack. Alligators would rather escape from an encounter with a human than attack.

What Is The Difference Between Alligators And Crocodiles?

Alligators and crocodiles belong to different families. Alligators are part of the Alligatoridae family and crocodiles, Crocodylidae.

There are only two species of alligator and over 17 species of crocodiles.

One of the most characteristic differences between crocodiles and alligators are their mouths.

When it comes to the shape of their snouts, alligators always have a broad U-shaped snout.

Crocodiles are more well-known for their V-shaped snout that is long and narrow.

Alligators have a wide top jaw with an overbite that means only their top teeth are visible when their mouths are closed. Both the top and bottom teeth of a crocodile are visible when their mouth is closed.

The color of these reptiles depends on where they live.

Alligators are often darker black or gray to blend in with their surroundings. Crocodiles are usually lighter tan, green or olive. This is because there is typically more algae in their habitat.

Crocodiles have the ability to live in high salinity waters because of salt glands on their tongues. This includes brackish water and salt water. Alligators do not have this ability and can be found in freshwater ponds, marshes, wetlands, rivers, lakes, and swamps.

In the United States alligators can be found in Florida, Louisiana, the coast of North and South Carolina, southern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Crocodiles can only be found on the southern tip of Florida.

Both reptiles are among the largest in the world and are certainly not pets.

Crocodiles are generally bigger. They can grow up to 23 feet and weigh 2,200 pounds, while alligators are generally 7 to 14 feet and weigh up to 1,000 pounds.

Alligators are generally smaller and faster. They can reach 30 miles per hour on land and 25 miles per hour in the water. Crocodiles can trot 20 miles per hour on land and swim up to 18 miles per hour.

Alligator Crocodile
Snout U-shaped snout that is flat and straight at the front. V-shaped snout that is pointed at the front.
Teeth Only their top teeth can be seen when their mouth is closed. Top and bottom teeth are always visible, even when its mouth is closed.
Jawline Overbite Toothy grin
Color Black and darker shades of gray. Vary in shades of green, olive and tan.
Size 8 to 11 feet 14 to 17 feet
Weight up to 1,000 pounds up to 2,000 pounds
Speed 30 mph on land 25 mph on land
Habitat Freshwater swamps and ponds Estuaries, rivers, and large lakes with the occasional brackish swamp.
States Florida, Louisiana, the coast of North and South Carolina, southern Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. Southern tip of Florida.
US Population 1 million + 20,000
Family Alligatoridae Crocodylidae
Aggression More timid around humans Aggressive, unpredictable and far more likely to attack
Bite force 3,000 psi 3,700 psi

Which Is More Dangerous Alligator Or Crocodile?

Alligators are territorial and will defend their home. However, they are not very confrontational and prefer to swim or walk away from a conflict with a human.

Crocodiles, however, are far more likely to attack a person if they come too close. They are bigger, stronger, and overall more aggressive.

When it comes to which animal is more dangerous and powerful the crocodile is the winner.

Crocodiles tend to be physically bigger and stronger.

Alligator jaws are meant to bite and clamp down on small prey, even those with hard exoskeletons like turtles.

Crocodiles have razor sharp teeth and a strong bite force to chomp through anything unfortunate enough to be a victim. The crocodile has the strongest bite force of any living animal at more than 3,700 psi.

Although alligators are quicker in the water and on land, if pit against each other it is likely that the crocodile would overpower an alligator. Luckily, this would not happen as there is nowhere in the world where crocodiles and alligators share a habitat.

Alligator vs Crocodile

The main difference between alligators and crocodiles is alligators have a U-shaped snout and you can only see their top teeth when their mouth is closed because of their overbite. Crocodiles have V-shaped snouts and a toothy grin.

Alligators tend to be dark green or black in color, live in freshwater ponds, lakes, rivers, and marshes and are faster than crocodiles. Crocodiles are light olive or green in color. They are also larger and more powerful and live in brackish water.

These are just some of the features of alligator vs crocodile that help many people identify them.

Have you ever seen a crocodile or an alligator up close? Let us know in the comments below!

About Nigel Robert

Nigel Robert Nigel is a lifelong reptile lover and has kept pet lizards since childhood. His first was a pet Leo which was shortly followed by a Beardie named, Rocky. For the last 10 years he has kept over 20 different species but his favorite is his Banana Ball Python, Monty.

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