Crocodile Versus Alligator

Four ways to tell a crocodile from an alligator. 

Samantha Enslen, Writing for
3-minute read

4 ways to tell a crocodile from an alligator

You’re in the water and your leg is being gnawed by a toothy beast. Quick—is it an alligator or a crocodile? Here’s a handy set of questions to help you find out.

First, stare it in the face. If you see a wide, U-shaped, rounded snout, somewhat like a shovel, you’re probably looking at an alligator. But if you see a pointy, V-shaped snout, you’re probably looking at a croc.

Alligators’ wide jaws are ideal for crushing things. Things like the hard shell of a turtle. Or the tough exoskeleton of a lobster. Or the brittle skull of a frightened human.

Crocodiles’ thin jaws aren’t quite as strong, but they still get the job done. Either beast can exert up to 3,700 pounds of pressure per square inch when it clamps its teeth together. Compare that to the 150 pounds of pressure you or I would use nibbling a sandwich. There’s no comparison.

Next, look at its mouth. In crocodiles, the upper jaw is about the same width as the lower jaw. Therefore, both its upper and lower teeth stick out when it closes its mouth. If you look closely, you might even notice an extra-long tooth on the bottom jaw. It’s the fourth one in from the nose, and it juts way up over the top lip of some crocs.

In contrast, an alligator’s upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw and overlaps it quite a bit. Therefore, when an alligator closes its mouth, you can only see its upper teeth.

While you’re studying the jaw, try not to think about the fact that both types of reptiles grow an inordinate number of teeth over the course of their lifetimes—up to 8,000! As one falls out, they simply grow another. On a day-to-day basis, they have about 100 in their mouths.


About the Author

Samantha Enslen, Writing for Grammar Girl

Samantha Enslen is an award-winning writer who has worked in publishing for more than 20 years. She runs Dragonfly Editorial, an agency that provides copywriting, editing, and design for scientific, medical, technical, and corporate materials. Sam is the vice president of ACES, The Society for Editing, and is the managing editor of Tracking Changes, ACES' quarterly journal.

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