Alligator vs. Crocodile: How to Spot the Differences?

Ever wondered the difference between an alligator and a crocodile? Here’s a look at some contrasts between these crocodilian cousins!

Feb 14, 2023By Lauren Rey
Crocodile vs. Alligators: spotting the differences

While they both fall under the crocodilian order and look very similar; alligators and crocodiles are not “one and the same.” From their coloring and size to their environment and habitat, there are many differences between these crocodilian creatures. With a range of over 90 countries, about half of the world lives with crocodilians. From alligators to crocodiles and many other subspecies, here’s an in-depth look at these toothy reptiles!

ColorDark Green, almost blackLight Green, Grey, Brown
Snout ShapeU shapeV shape
SpeedUp to 25mphAround 18mph
Weight~900-1000 pounds~2,000 pounds
LengthUp to 15 feet longUp to 20 feet long

Differences in Appearance Between Alligators and Crocodiles

Physical differences between alligators and crocodiles

Alligators and crocodiles are both members of the crocodilian order, a group of 23 different species of large carnivorous semi-aquatic reptiles. They remain largely unchanged from their prehistoric ancestors and are often referred to as “modern-day dinosaurs.”

At first glance, these giant reptiles look very similar, but if you study their features, you’ll see some subtle differences. Alligators are typically darker in color than crocodiles, ranging from dark green to almost black. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are much lighter, usually light green, grey, or various shades of brown.

One of the most noticeable differences is in their snout shape. Alligators have a “U” shaped snout, whereas crocodiles have a distinct “V” shaped snout. Crocodiles also have more visible bottom teeth due to their jaw shape.

The feet of an alligator are also different from a crocodile. Alligators have webbed feet that make them faster in the water. Alligators can swim up to 25mph, while crocs clock in at around 18mph.

Differences in Size Between Crocodiles and Alligators

Size comparison between crocodile and alligator

Crocodiles win the prize in the size category, with the largest ones weighing up to 2,000 pounds and measuring up to 20 feet long! Alligators are by no means small though; these swampy beasts can reach lengths of 15 feet and weights in the 900s.

The largest crocodile on record was a 20-foot saltwater crocodile in the Philippines nicknamed Lolong. He weighed over 2,300 pounds and was captured and transferred to a wildlife park after it was suspected he was responsible for some local attacks. While Lolong is the largest recorded, experts believe it is possible there may be larger crocs out there.

The largest alligator caught on record came from the Alabama River. He weighed in at just over 1,000 pounds and was 15 feet long.

While there are smaller subspecies of crocodiles, such as the African Dwarf Crocodile, the average crocodile versus the average alligator will be larger.

Types of Crocodiles and Alligators

Alligator or Crocodile

Of the 23 species of crocodilians found around the world, there are only two species of alligators, the American Alligator, and the Chinese Alligator. The remaining species are divided among the well-known “true crocodiles” and the lesser-known caimans and gharials.

The “true crocodile” group includes species such as the Nile Crocodile, one of the most feared predators in Africa, and the Saltwater Crocodile. These “Salties” as they are commonly known, are found throughout Asia and Australia. Often the subject of both fear and fascination, these crocodiles are the largest reptile species and have the strongest bite force.

Group of Crocodiles

This group also includes the American Crocodile, Cuban Crocodile, Philippine Crocodile, Mugger Crocodile of India, Morelet’s Crocodile of Mexico, and other smaller species throughout the world. Most members of the “true crocodile” group can and will attack humans if they are in their territory. Some species are known to be more aggressive than others, some are more territorial, and some are opportunistic hunters. Most that live within crocodile territory exercise a healthy caution near waterways.

Caimans are a smaller crocodilian species found throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America. Gharials are one of the most unique crocodilian species with a very thin, elongated snout. Gharials are found in rivers throughout Northern India. Although they are quite large, (up to 19 feet!) they pose little threat to humans due to their slim snout. Gharials are adapted to catching fish and do not generally attack large prey.

Distribution and Habitat

Underwater Crocodile habitat

While alligators and crocodiles both live in tropical or subtropical areas, they have very different habitats and distribution ranges. Alligators can also survive colder temperatures better than crocodiles can.

Alligators are only found in the southeastern US and eastern China. They live in freshwater and are typically found in swamps, marshes, wetlands, rivers, canals, lakes, and ponds. Occasionally they’ll wander into saltwater or brackish water like estuaries, coastal wetlands, or even the ocean but won’t stay long. Alligators can only tolerate salinity for a short period of time.

Crocodiles have a much wider range and adaptation for saltwater. They can be found in over 90 countries around the world in oceans, lagoons, rivers, lakes, and wetlands. The highest concentrations of crocodiles are found on the continents of Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Most crocodiles and alligators will never cross paths, with the exception of one place, South Florida. South Florida is the only place in the world where both alligators and crocodiles coexist. South Florida is at the very northern range for the American Crocodile which is more prevalent in Mexico, Central America, and South America.

American Alligator

Outside of South Florida, crocodilian sightings should be pretty easy to figure out based on location alone. Either way, if you come across one of these toothy reptiles in your travels, best to give it some space. Both alligators and crocodiles are better admired from afar!

Lauren Rey
By Lauren Rey

A lover of all animals, Lauren’s background is in the veterinary world, but she is now a content writer on travel, wildlife, and all things pets! She’s based in Florida, but when not writing, she’s usually plotting out a new road trip route with her partner-in-crime. Pickles is a mixed-breed rescue dog that loves hiking, road trips, and Starbucks just as much as her mom does!