Is it weird to put seeing certain species on your vacation plans? Well, despite the lack of birds in my late November trip to the Everglades (with some notable exceptions), I did get to see something I’ve always wanted to see.
American Alligators are old hat for anyone from southern Louisiana that spends an appreciable amount of time outdoors so you’d think I wouldn’t be so excited about seeing the only other crocodilian native to the United States but you’d be wrong. I had read that the extreme southern limit of driving destinations in the Everglades at the Flamingo Visitor Center was an excellent opportunity to see an American Crocodile although I didn’t have my hopes up. This species, like the alligator, was threatened by hunting and loss of habitat and by the mid 70’s, there were only thought to be between 100-400 individuals left in the US.
So, I was quite happy to see a crowd gathering behind the Flamingo Marina after lunch. A crocodile (maybe 6′) was slowly swimming along the docks, seemingly oblivious to its crowd of observers. The photo below shows a large crocodile we saw sunning on the boat ramp later in the day.A few minutes later we spotted another crocodile behind the marina; this one probably almost 8′ and down the canal a smaller one! The difference between this and an alligator was immediately apparent to me. The head was the wrong shape and it was a tan/gray color instead of the dark greenish black of an alligator. The rangers gave everyone tips to differentiate crocodiles from alligators:
- Narrower head
- Gray instead of black
- On an alligator when the mouth is closed, only top teeth protrude from the mouth. On a crocodile, teeth protrude from the top and the bottom.
- Speckled intermittent black scales on the sides
- Larger, more protruding tail “scutes”. The scutes are the spiny protrusions that stick off the top of the tail. They’re much more vertical on a crocodile giving it a more prehistoric feel, in my opinion.