Most people understand that alligators and crocodiles are not, strictly speaking, the same animals. What most people don’t know, are all the things that make them different. While both reptiles can be considered ferocious potential man-eaters, and they have more similarities than differences (when taking into account the entire animal kingdom), there are still many important, marked differences between crocodiles and alligators. In this article, we will outline the most important differences between alligators and crocodiles.
The Classification Difference between Alligators and Crocodiles
The first and most obvious difference between crocodiles and alligators is that they belong to different families of crocodilians.
There are three crocodilian families: the crocodylidae (the family that “real” crocodiles belong to), alligatoridae (alligators and caimans belong to this family) and gavialidae (which includes the ghavial, a type of Indian, alligator-like creature).
The difference in classification is important because it denotes that alligators and crocodiles are related genetically, but only at an arms distance.
The Difference in temperament between Alligators and Crocodiles
While there is no hard and steady rule about alligator and crocodile temperament (individuals, and individual subspecies vary widely), most people see crocodiles as being much more aggressive compared to alligators. While alligators will generally flee when approached by humans, crocodiles are often known to attack and eat people (although, again, this is not a hard rule, please do not go out and approach an alligator to test it).
The Jaw differences between Alligators and Crocodiles
The second most obvious difference between crocodiles and alligators (and the one that is most commonly known) are their jaw shapes: Alligators tend to have wider, blunter jaws, while crocodiles have more pointed jaws.
Specifically, the upper jaws of alligators are typically wider than their lower jaws, so that when they close their mouths the lower teeth disappear completely. Crocodiles, on the other hand, have interlocking teeth, so both sets are visible when they close their mouths.
The difference in jaw structure between alligators and crocodiles can be explained by their differing diets. It is commonly believed that the wider jaws of alligators help them to crack open the hard shells of certain prey species (turtles, armadillos, and certain invertebrates with hard shells). The wider jaw helps absorb the impact and gives the alligator more power to complete these tasks. Crocodiles generally subsist on a diet of softer animals, and so do not require the same jaw structure.
The Glandular difference between Alligators and Crocodiles
If you dare to look inside those jaws, beyond those teeth, you will find yet another difference between crocodiles and alligators. Crocodiles have specialized glands (called “lingual salt glands”) on their tongues that they use to excrete excess salt in their bodies. These glands allow crocodiles to live in much saltier water than they would be able to live in otherwise.
While alligators also have these glands, they are believed to be vestigial and do not function. Alligators can only survive in salt water for short periods of time.
The Sense organ difference between alligators and crocodiles
Alligators and crocodiles both have small pits around their jaws. These “pits” help the animals sense pressure differences in the water around them, which helps them to locate prey. The main difference between crocodiles and alligators concerning these pits is that crocodiles also have them all over the rest of their bodies.
Knowing this fact can help you to detect the difference between crocodile and alligator skin clothing. If the wallet, purse of garment has little spots near the edges of the scales, you know that it is crocodile skin. If not, you can be sure that it’s alligator skin you’re looking at.