Alligators vs. Crocodiles: Unveiling the Jaw-Dropping Differences That You Want To Know About

At first glance, alligators and crocodiles seem very similar. After all, you probably don’t want to get close enough to these massive animals for an up-close inspection. But the reality is that you can spot some key differences between alligators vs crocodiles.

In this article, I’ll share a breakdown of the differences between these two amazing creatures.

Key facts:

  • Alligators have a U-shaped snout, while crocodiles have a V-shaped snout.
  • Alligators have webbed feet and prefer freshwater habitats. But crocodiles don’t have webbed feet and live in fresh, brackish, and saltwater.
  • Crocodiles tend to be greenish-brown or gray, while alligators tend to be greenish-black.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: An Overview

DistributionAmerican Alligator found throughout Southeastern USSeveral Croc species, worldwide distribution
Size8.2 feet to 11.2+ feet (2.6 m to 3.4 m)
Largest recorded: 19 feet 2 inches (5.8 m)
10 feet to 20+ feet (3m to 6 m)
Largest recorded: 20.2 feet (6.17 m)
Snout ShapeU-Shaped snoutV-Shaped snout
TeethUpper teeth are hidden when jaw is closedTeeth protrude when jaw is closed
ColorDark gray or blackGreenish-gray or brown
FeetWebbedNot webbed
Bite strength2000 pounds per square inch3,700 pounds per square inch
Top speed on land35 mph22 mph
Top speed in the water20 mph15 mph

Alligator vs Crocodile: Species Breakdown

While they look very similar, alligators and crocodiles are distinct groups within the order Crocodylia. There are only two species of alligators and several species of crocodiles.

Alligator Species

Here’s a breakdown of the two living alligator species:

  1. American Alligator (Alligator mississippiensis): Found in the southeastern United States, this is the most well-known and widely studied alligator species.
  2. Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis): Native to China, this critically endangered species is smaller in size compared to its American counterpart.

Crocodile Species

Now here’s a look at the living crocodile species:

  1. Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus): Also known as “salties,” they are the largest living reptiles and can be found in the coastal regions of the Indian Ocean and Pacific Ocean.
  2. Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus): Found in sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile crocodile is known for its aggressive nature and is one of the largest freshwater predators.
  3. American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus): Primarily inhabiting the coastal regions of the Americas, from southern Florida to South America, this species is known for its tolerance to saltwater.
  4. Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii): Native to Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala, this medium-sized crocodile species prefers freshwater habitats such as swamps and marshes.
  5. Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer): Endemic to Cuba, this critically endangered species has a unique appearance with its bony ridges on the back and a narrow snout.
  6. Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis): Once found throughout Southeast Asia, this critically endangered species now has a restricted range and is primarily found in Cambodia.
  7. Australian Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni): Native to northern Australia, these crocodiles are smaller in size compared to their saltwater counterparts and primarily inhabit freshwater habitats.
  8. Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris): Found in the Indian subcontinent and parts of Southeast Asia, mugger crocodiles inhabit freshwater environments, including rivers, lakes, and marshes.
  9. New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae): Endemic to New Guinea and nearby islands, this crocodile species inhabits both freshwater and brackish habitats.
  10. Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius): Native to the Orinoco River basin in South America, this critically endangered species prefers freshwater habitats and is known for its broad snout.
  11. Phillippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis): Found only in the Philippines, this critically endangered species primarily inhabits freshwater habitats such as rivers, lakes, and marshes.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Distribution

With only two different species, alligators have a more limited distribution than crocodiles. Specifically, the Chinese alligator is found in China. But the American alligator, which is more familiar to most, is found throughout the Southeastern US.

In contrast, crocodiles can be found around the world. You can find crocodiles in Australia, Asia, South America, Africa, and North America. (But you won’t find them in Antarctica!)

South Florida is one of the only places in the world where alligator and crocodile species overlap. On a visit to Everglades National Park, I was lucky enough to see an American alligator and an American crocodile soaking up the sun about 20 feet apart. Definitely a unique experience!

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Physical Differences

Alligators and crocodiles have distinct physical differences that set them apart from each other. Below is a closer look at those differences.

Head Shape

Alligators possess a broad and rounded U-shaped snout, which is one of their defining features. This head shape allows for a more robust and powerful bite force, suited for crushing prey items such as turtles and large fish.

Below is a picture of an American alligator:

On the other hand, crocodiles showcase a narrower and more pointed V-shaped snout, emphasizing their streamlined design. This sleek head shape enables crocodiles to swiftly move through the water, making them formidable predators in their aquatic habitats.

Here’s a picture of a crocodile:

Tooth Visibility

Alligators have a unique dental arrangement where, when their mouths are closed, only the upper teeth are visible. This gives them a seemingly toothless appearance from the lower jaw, as the lower teeth are hidden within sockets in the upper jaw.

Here’s a look at a (baby) alligator’s teeth:

In contrast, crocodiles boast a striking dental display even when their mouths are closed. Both upper and lower teeth are visible, creating the iconic toothy grin associated with these reptiles.

Here’s a look at crocodile’s teeth:

This disparity in tooth visibility is a key feature that sets alligators and crocodiles apart, providing a visual clue to distinguish between the two groups of formidable predators.


When comparing alligators and crocodile species, one noticeable difference lies in their sizes. Alligators are generally smaller in stature compared to most crocodile species. For instance, the American alligator, one of the most well-known alligator species, typically reaches lengths of about 13 to 15 feet (4 to 4.5 meters).

Here’s a relatively large alligator at St. Marks Wildlife Refuge:

But crocodile species can attain much larger sizes. The saltwater crocodile, known as the largest living reptile, can exceed lengths of 20 feet (6 meters) or more, making it a true giant among crocodilians. Similarly, the Nile crocodile, another formidable predator, can also reach impressive lengths, often exceeding 16 feet (5 meters). T


Alligators generally display darker hues, ranging from blackish to dark olive-brown. This darker coloration aids them in blending seamlessly into their freshwater habitats, such as swamps and marshes, providing effective camouflage during their hunting activities.

Here’s a look at an American alligator with dark hues. The baby gators are born with more camouflaged color patterns and tend to hang around mom for months.

Crocodile species tend to showcase lighter tones, including shades of brown, gray, or olive. This lighter coloration allows crocodiles to adapt to a wider range of environments, including both freshwater and saltwater habitats. The lighter shades help them camouflage effectively in different surroundings, such as rivers, estuaries, and coastal areas.

Alligator vs Crocodile: Food Preferences

Both alligators and crocodiles are apex predators, which essentially means they are at the top of the food chain in their habitat. However, these creatures have different hunting styles and access to different types of food based on their location.

Here’s a look at some of the most common prey for alligators:

  • Fish
  • Turtles
  • Frogs
  • Birds
  • Rays
  • Snakes
  • Sharks
  • Spiders (young alligators)
  • Worms(young alligators)
  • Wild boards
  • Deer
  • Black bears
  • Bobcats
  • Domestic dogs

Here’s a list of some of the most common prey for crocodiles:

  • Fish
  • Sharks
  • Cattle
  • Crabs
  • Turtles
  • Goats
  • Raccoons
  • Carrion

As you can see, there is quite a bit of overlap between the different prey targeted by crocodiles and alligators. Notably, both animals have been observed eating fruits and other vegetation. While some veggies might be a part of their diet, both alligators and crocodiles are considered carnivores.

Alligator vs Crocodile: Hunting Techniques

Alligators and crocodiles tend to go after their prey a bit differently.

Alligators are primarily ambush predators, relying on their excellent camouflage and patience to capture their prey. They remain submerged, with only their eyes and nostrils above the water surface, patiently waiting for an opportune moment to strike. With lightning-fast movements, alligators rely on their powerful jaws and crushing bite force to seize and subdue their prey, often dragging it underwater to consume it.

In contrast, crocodile species employ more proactive hunting strategies. They often stalk their prey, utilizing their streamlined bodies to move stealthily through the water. With their long, slender snouts, crocodiles are able to swiftly approach their prey without causing much disturbance. When the time is right, they employ a sudden burst of speed to close the gap between themselves and the unsuspecting victim. With a combination of sheer power and agility, crocodiles seize their prey with a vice-like grip and perform the notorious “death roll,” using their strong bodies to twist and tear apart their catch.

Alligator vs Crocodile: Threat to Humans

Both alligators and crocodile species have the potential to pose threats to humans in certain situations. Alligators, although generally shy and reclusive, can become dangerous if they feel threatened or provoked. Instances of alligator attacks on humans, though rare, usually occur when humans venture too close to their habitats or unknowingly approach nesting areas.

It is important to exercise caution and maintain a safe distance from alligators to prevent any potential conflicts.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen an unsuspecting tourist march up to an alligator to snap a picture in Florida (specifically, it’s a big problem on Paynes Prairie). If you see an alligator, please give it plenty of room. And please don’t throw rocks at it! (*yes* I’ve seen that happen too!)

As a native Floridian, I recommend avoiding walking too close to freshwater sources, especially around dusk and dawn when alligators are most active. If you want to walk your dog safely, try to avoid the water’s edge!

Crocodile species, particularly the larger ones like the Nile crocodile and saltwater crocodile, have a reputation for being more aggressive toward humans. They are powerful predators capable of inflicting serious harm. Attacks by crocodiles are most commonly reported when humans unknowingly enter their territories, such as while swimming or bathing in bodies of water where crocodiles reside.

Being aware of the presence of crocodiles and adhering to safety guidelines in areas known to be inhabited by these species is crucial to minimizing the risk of encounters and potential attacks.

Alligator vs Crocodile: Origins

When you see an alligator or crocodile in real life, it might look like a dinosaur. With that, it’s not surprising that these creatures have deep roots from millions of years ago.

Alligators and crocodile species trace their origins back to a shared evolutionary history that dates back millions of years. These reptiles are part of the order Crocodylia, which encompasses both alligators and crocodiles. The common ancestors of alligators and crocodiles first appeared during the late Cretaceous period, approximately 80-100 million years ago. Over time, they diverged into separate lineages, developing distinct physical and behavioral characteristics.

The ancestors of modern-day alligators likely originated in North America, with fossil evidence suggesting their presence during the late Cretaceous period. As these reptiles adapted to various habitats, they spread across the southeastern United States and parts of China, giving rise to the American alligator and Chinese alligator species.

The earliest known crocodile-like reptiles appeared in what is now present-day Brazil and Nigeria, with fossil evidence suggesting their existence around 200 million years ago. These ancient crocodile ancestors were smaller in size compared to their modern counterparts and likely inhabited freshwater environments.

As time progressed, crocodile species underwent diversification and spread to different regions across the globe. Fossil records indicate that crocodiles thrived in diverse habitats, including both freshwater and marine environments. Over millions of years, they adapted to various ecological niches, leading to the emergence of different crocodile species with distinct physical characteristics and behaviors.

The ability of crocodiles to adapt to a wide range of environments contributed to their success and evolutionary longevity. Their ancient origins and remarkable adaptability make crocodiles not only fascinating creatures but also living relics of Earth’s prehistoric past.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Who Would Win In A Fight?

Determining the outcome of a hypothetical fight between an alligator and a crocodile is a complex task. Both species are formidable predators with unique adaptations and impressive strength. In a direct confrontation, the result would depend on several factors, including the size, age, and physical condition of the individuals involved.

Alligators possess powerful jaws and tremendous bite force, enabling them to crush their prey effectively. They are known for their strength and resilience, which could give them an advantage in a fight. On the other hand, crocodiles are renowned for their speed, agility, and the ability to execute the infamous “death roll.” With their streamlined bodies and sharp teeth, crocodiles can inflict severe injuries on their opponents.

Ultimately, if I had to bet on a fight between these two creatures, I would put my money on the crocodile. But I wouldn’t be too surprised if I lost the bet!

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Predators

When you think of these mighty predators, it’s easy to think the creatures might avoid the threat of predators altogether. While the largest alligators and crocodiles don’t have to worry too much about predators, many of the relatively ‘small’ animals do.

In the case of alligators, younger individuals may fall prey to larger alligators, as cannibalism can occur within their populations. Additionally, larger predatory mammals like Florida panthers can pose a threat to smaller alligators, particularly when they venture too close to the water’s edge.

Invasive pythons in the Florida Everglades are also a threat to alligators. Smaller alligators are especially at risk of predation by a large Burmese python.

But sometimes the gator wins! Here’s a picture taken in Everglades National Park of an alligator eating an invasive python.

Crocodile species also encounter a range of predators depending on their habitats. In Africa, Nile crocodiles, for example, may face competition and predation from other large carnivores such as lions and hyenas, particularly during encounters over shared prey resources. In the water, crocodiles may face threats from large predatory fish, such as bull sharks, especially during feeding events or territorial disputes.

However, it is important to note that both alligators and crocodile species have evolved potent defenses and strategies to protect themselves from potential predators. Their powerful jaws, armored scales, and stealthy behavior make them formidable adversaries.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Conservation Status

Alligators and crocodile species face varying conservation statuses, depending on their specific populations and regions. Overall, some alligator and crocodile species have made remarkable recoveries due to conservation efforts. For instance, the American alligator, once on the brink of extinction, has rebounded successfully and is now listed as a species of least concern. Similarly, the American crocodile has shown signs of recovery, thanks to habitat protection and management efforts.

However, not all alligator and crocodile species have been as fortunate. Several crocodile species, such as the Philippine crocodile and Siamese crocodile, remain critically endangered due to habitat loss, illegal hunting, and pollution. The saltwater crocodile, while still present in many areas, faces ongoing conservation challenges in managing conflicts with humans due to its large size and territorial nature.

Alligators vs Crocodiles: Threats

Alligators and crocodile species face various threats that impact their survival in today’s changing world. Habitat loss and degradation are significant concerns for these reptiles. The destruction of wetlands, deforestation, and urban development encroach upon their natural habitats, reducing available space and altering their ecosystems. Pollution, including chemical runoff and plastic waste, further jeopardizes their well-being and disrupts the delicate balance of their environments.

Illegal hunting and poaching also pose a threat to alligators and crocodiles. In fact, the American alligator was hunted to the brink of extinction in the 1970s. But after gaining protections under the Endangered Species Act, the population of American alligators rebounded.

Despite protective measures in place, these reptiles are often hunted for their skins, which are highly valued in the fashion industry. Additionally, some people capture these creatures for the exotic pet trade, contributing to their decline in the wild.

Frequently Asked Questions

You have questions about alligators vs crocodiles. I have answers.

Which is stronger, alligator or crocodile?

The strength of an individual alligator or crocodile would depend on various factors such as size, age, and physical condition. But the general consensus is that come crocodile species are slightly stronger than alligators.

Does Florida have alligators or crocodiles?

Florida has both alligators and crocodiles. While the American alligator can be found throughout the state, American crocodiles are slowly expanding their range north and are currently found on the East and West coast of central Florida.

Which is more aggressive alligator or crocodile?

Crocodiles are generally considered more aggressive than alligators. However, alligators are also fearsome predators that will defend themselves if they perceive a threat.

Can alligators or crocodiles swim in the ocean?

Crocodiles can swim in the ocean as some species, like the saltwater crocodile, are known to tolerate and navigate saltwater environments. Alligators, on the other hand, are primarily freshwater animals and do not typically swim in the ocean. While they can tolerate brackish water to some extent, alligators prefer freshwater habitats such as swamps, lakes, and rivers.

Should you get an alligator or crocodile as a pet?

It is generally not recommended to get an alligator or crocodile as a pet. Both species require specialized care, large and secure enclosures, and proper permits due to their potentially dangerous nature. They can grow to large sizes and have specific dietary and environmental needs that are difficult to meet in a home setting. Additionally, their ownership may be illegal or highly regulated in many jurisdictions to protect both the animals and the public.

Final Take

While they share similarities as members of the crocodilian family, each species possesses unique characteristics that define their behavior, habitat preferences, and physical traits.

Alligators, with their broad snouts and patient ambush hunting, thrive in freshwater habitats, while crocodile species exhibit a more diverse range of adaptations and occupy both freshwater and saltwater environments. Understanding the distinctions between alligators and crocodiles enhances our appreciation for the incredible diversity and resilience of these remarkable creatures.

Have you seen an alligator or crocodile in the wild? What’s your favorite species?