types of crocodile

18 Types of Crocodiles: Species, Facts and Photos

Crocodiles often evoke a single, generalized image, neglecting these species' diversity. Various types of crocodiles are found from North America's swamps to Africa's rivers. They also have distinguishing features and behaviors, making each of them unique. Are you curious about these ancient predators? Let our article guide you on all species of these living fossils.

Taxonomic Classification of Crocodiles

Crocodiles belong to the order Crocodilia, home to alligators and caimans. However, this post only focuses on true crocodiles, specifically the Crocodylidae family. Three key genera — Crocodylus, Mecistops, and Osteolaemus — constitute the 18 extant crocodile species. 

The distinguishing characteristics of each genus show the diversity of these creatures. Crocodylus is the most widespread, with versatility in habitats from rivers to salty coasts. Mecistops bear a slender snout and appear primarily in fresh waters across Africa. Lastly, Osteolaemus, the smallest among the three, is known as a dwarf crocodile, dwelling primarily in lowland rainforests.

The key to the crocodiles' survival is their adaptability. Whether fresh or saltwater, they've carved out a home, displaying impressive environmental flexibility. Looking ahead, we'll get into each of the 18 species in individual detail.

Related Read: Crocodile Facts.

18 Types of Crocodile Species

1. Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

nile crocodile
Photo by Dewet on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Nile crocodile, stretching up to 16 feet long, is the second-largest crocodilian and the largest in Africa. Predominantly, the males reach this size; females remain somewhat smaller. Their bodies, cloaked in a dark bronze shell dotted with black and a hint of belly purple, make a perfect camouflage for preying. 

This crocodile boasts an impressively strong bite force, almost 3,000 PSI, one of the highest among animals. They inhabit the freshwater venues of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Nile Basin, and even Madagascar. These habitats provide an ideal mix of protective cover and bountiful food resources. 

Contrary to common belief, Nile crocodiles are not solitary by nature. They have a social structure, showcasing dominance and sometimes even disputes. 

They also have a sharp sensory system. This crocodile can sense minute changes in water pressure, which is vital for hunting.

2. American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

american crocodile
Photo by Tomás Castelazo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 (Cropped from original).

The American crocodile reaches a hearty 13.5 feet in length, sporting broad snouts studded with sharp teeth for grappling prey. 

They are the only crocodile species native to the US, primarily seen in southern Florida and at times sighted in Louisiana and Texas. Their olive-gray hue provides excellent camouflage in their surroundings, hiding them from prey until the ideal strike moment.

Because of their adaptability, these crocs are the most widespread of all species living in America. They can survive in fresh wetlands, coastal lagoons, and river estuaries and even handle saltwater, courtesy of special glands that filter out excess salt. Other types of crocodiles may have tolerance to salt. Still, only the American crocodile4, other than Saltwater Crocodiles, can thrive in saltwater environments.

Despite their formidable presence and efficient predation, they tend to be reserved and mainly avoid humans. Males are territorial, and despite their solitary life, they contribute significantly to the ecosystem by keeping prey populations in check.

3. Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnstoni)

freshwater crocodile
Photo by Mark Marathon on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Freshwater Crocodile can be found in Northern Australia. This species is also Johnston's Crocodile, commemorating the amateur naturalist Robert Arthur Johnstone, who first reported it. 

They have light brown bodies with darker bands at the back and tail. Males typically measure up to 9 feet, while females average around 7 feet. Their narrow snouts, distinguishing them from other crocs, are ideal for catching fish, insects, and small amphibians.

These freshwater crocodiles inhabit rivers, wetlands, and creeks, living away from Saltwater Crocodiles as much as possible to avoid confrontation.

4. Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

saltwater crocodile
Photo by Molly Ebersold on Wikimedia Commons (Public Domain).

The Saltwater crocodile is the world's largest land predator and reptile, stretching up to 20 feet long and weighing more than a ton. It can also overpower other predators, including lions and bears, thanks to their 3,700 psi biting power, which is the highest among other types of crocodiles2.

Their distinguishing features include wide, hefty snouts and rugged, dark green scales that blend with the surroundings, while their bellies flaunt cream-colored scales.

Also called marine crocodiles or sea crocodiles, their range spans from the eastern Indian shores to Southeast Asia and northern Australia. Remarkably tolerant to saltwater, these robust crocs tend to live in saltwater habitats but can also thrive in brackish and fresh waters. 

Their feeding habits are highly opportunistic, and they prefer to hunt submerged in water. Nothing, including fish, birds, and mammals, seems to escape their menu. Their infamous "death roll" hunting strategy is brutal but effectively attacks larger prey.

5. Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

cuban crocodile
Photo by kuhnmi on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The Cuban crocodile, hailing from the heart of the Caribbean, displays a stunning mix of olive and gold hues. Males can reach up to 11 feet, with females slightly shorter. You'll commonly spot Cuban Crocodiles in the Zapata Swamp or Isle of Youth in Cuba.

Don’t let their medium size fool you. These territorial crocodiles are intelligent and aggressive5. Many scientists and zookeepers have observed these, from cooperative hunting to challenging handling. 

Unfortunately, Cuban Crocodiles are critically endangered8, with less than 2,400 individuals in the wild. They face various threats, including water pollution, climate change, illegal hunting, and habitat transformation. Additionally, hybridization with the American Crocodile compromises their genetic integrity and introduced crocodilians to compete with their resources.

6. Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis)

philippine crocodile
Photo by Julia Sumangil on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Philippine crocodile is another critically endangered species needing immediate protection6. It typically grows up to 8.8 feet. Notable features include a wide snout and durable dorsal shield. 

Endemic to the Philippines, this species dwindles in three regions, with fewer than 200 mature individuals, a decrease of 82%. Despite reintroduction attempts, an 85%-94% drop in adults exists over three generations. 

The species faces threats from habitat loss, persecution, and fishing net entanglement. High conservation dependence is noted - discontinuing conservation actions could result in extinction within ten years.

7. Morelet's Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)

morelet's crocodile
Photo by GautierPoupeau on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

Hailing from Central America's freshwater habitats, the Morelet's Crocodile, also called the Mexican Crocodile, ranges vastly across Mexico to Guatemala. These medium-sized creatures extend up to 10 feet, with males often outsizing females.

Characteristically, this species sports a dark, grey-brown skin adorned with bands and spots over their frame and tail. This helps them blend and become nearly invisible, hunting stealthily in the murky marsh, swamp, and lake waters, which they prefer.

Their reputation includes a noticeably short temper, particularly during breeding seasons. An intriguing behavior they exhibit is their distinctive "water dance"- a body oscillation that makes the water pulsate, essential for their communication.

Though they were previously exploited for their valuable hide in the 1950s, they've rebounded thanks to dedicated conservation measures. They now hold a least concern status. However, they're still as threatened by habitat loss, pollution, and climate change as before.

8. Hall's New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus halli)

While navigating southern New Guinea, you may come across the Hall's New Guinea crocodile in the fresh waters. Recognized recently in 2019, its name is after the researcher Philip M. Hall, who first looked into the species’ distinctiveness in the 1980s.

The Hall's New Guinea crocodile differs from the New Guinea crocodile primarily through their skull structure and nesting habits. 

These differences, which were found in separate halves of the island, were discovered via an extensive museum skull study1. The former has a shorter, wider skull, while the latter possesses a narrower, longer skull. The mating and nesting behaviors also vary between the two species, which inhabit distinct ecosystems separated by the New Guinean highlands.

9. New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae)

new guinea crocodile
Photo by Midori on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The New Guinea Crocodile is a small-sized species, with males measuring up to almost 11 feet and females appearing a bit smaller. However, they both feature a broad snout and ridges down their backs and tails, distinguishing them from other species. Their green-brown skin is a notable natural beauty, yet it draws the attention of hunters as a valued resource.

They inhabit the freshwater swamps and lakes of North Guinea, while the previous type of crocodile lives in the south.

Exhibited by their love for hunting at night, New Guinea crocodiles cleverly utilize their night vision for survival. During the day, they either spend submerged in water or bask in groups.

10. Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)

siamese crocodile
Photo by tontantravel on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The medium-sized Siamese crocodile, typically up to 9.8 feet, epitomizes freshwater wildlife with a sleek, olive-green exterior. Unlike its bigger kin, it boasts a smooth snout that mirrors its placid surroundings across Southeast Asia's marshlands, from Cambodia to potentially Thailand.

Unfortunately, Siamese crocodiles are critically endangered7, with populations significantly fragmented and reduced, primarily because of commercial hunting, illegal collection, habitat destruction, incidental fishing captures, and hydroelectric dam development. 

Despite new information on its ecology, it remains poorly understood. Without conservation interventions, the species' progressive decline will carry on.

11. Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius)

orinoco crocodile
Photo by Fernando Flores on Flickr licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 (Cropped from original).

The South American Orinoco crocodile, a notable inhabitant of Venezuela's and Colombia's river basins, is a titan among reptiles. Male counterparts stretch up to 14 feet long, ranking them among the earth's biggest crocodile species.

Their sandy hues, aptly designed for the riverine backdrop, assist in maintaining an element of surprise when hunting prey. Their physical attribute of a long, slender snout is crafted for capturing fish. However, as opportunistic feeders, they can also occasionally consume small mammals, reptiles, and even caimans.

Over-hunting in the early to mid-1900s led to an alarming reduction of over 80% in the Orinoco Crocodile population. Today, trade is blocked, and over-exploitation isn't a significant threat. However, illegal harvest, habitat fragmentation, pollution, and riverside development still pose considerable threats. 

Sadly, with approximately 250 mature individuals remaining, Orinoco Crocodiles are endangered.

12. Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)

mugger crocodile
Photo by Charles J. Sharp on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 (Cropped from original).

The Mugger crocodile, or the Marsh crocodile, commands respect in the freshwater habitats of southern Iran and the Indian subcontinent. Depending on diet and habitat, males can reach medium-sized lengths of approximately 11.5 feet. 

These creatures feature a distinct dark, olive-brown to black skin that acts as effective camouflage, aided further by their wide snouts. Their habitat choice includes marshes, lakes, and rivers; however, man-made habitats like reservoirs and irrigation channels are not uncommon for these far-traveled reptiles. 

A recent study reveals reptiles' first recorded tool use. Mugger Crocodiles spotted luring prey using sticks on their snouts during the nest-building season. Researchers observed this behavior both in natural habitats and zoological parks. 

13. Borneo Crocodile (Crocodylus raninus)

The Borneo crocodile, a rare freshwater species, is found exclusively on the Southeast Asian island of Borneo. Its classification remains disputed, with some arguing it is a  synonym for Saltwater Crocodiles. Recent research suggests it holds a distinct identity, creating ongoing debates in the scientific community.

14. West African Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus)

west african crocodile
Photo by Marco Schmidt on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The West African crocodile is also known as the desert crocodile. It typically reaches up to 9.8 feet - with a few reaching an impressive 13 feet. Its distinguishing features are its olive body and broad snout with larger scales.

These types of crocodiles thrive in rivers, mountain rock pools, and seasonal floodplains of West Africa. As dry seasons hit, it finds shelter between rock boulders or excavated burrows.

15. West African Slender-snouted Crocodile (Mecistops cataphractus)

west-african slender-snouted crocodile
Photo by Thesupermat on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The West African slender-snouted crocodile is a medium-sized species, stretching up to 13 feet, with a uniquely elongated snout, optimizing its skills in aquatic hunting. 

They inhabit freshwater bodies, existing across 18 nations in Central and West Africa. You can easily spot them during the night as they spend the day hidden near the water's edge in the shade.

Slender-snouted Crocodile, last evaluated as Data Deficient in 1996, faced significant changes in the following years, leading to concerns over its status. Evidence suggesting a split between West and Central African species underscores this issue. 

Central African species exhibit a more resilient, unified habitat, with West African counterparts fragmented due to deforestation and geology. Anthropogenic changes such as encroachment, hunting, and aridification have further damaged the population, particularly in West Africa, where some subpopulations could go extinct in the near future.

Trade in crocodile skins, habitat changes, and human intrusion since 1938 have led to the West African Slender-snouted Crocodile being listed as Critically Endangered.

16. Central African Slender-snouted Crocodile (Mecistops leptorhynchus)

central african slender-snouted crocodile
Photo by Leyo on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Central African Slender-snouted Crocodile differs from its West African counterpart as they are two distinct but superficially similar species. Aside from being endemic from different parts of the continent, molecular and morphological studies have revealed a distinction despite overlapping variations and a complex taxonomic history3

Although both slender-snouted crocodiles are critically endangered, they are doing better, with less fragmentation and lower historical decline in their populations.

17. Osborn’s Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus osborni)

Osborn’s dwarf crocodiles reside in the rainforests of West and Central Africa, mainly the Congo Basin. First identified in 1919, it underwent a series of reclassifications until being reduced to a subspecies rank in 1961. However, a 2007 morphological study suggests that it should be elevated to a species. 

Recognized officially, this Congo dwarf crocodile holds the title for the smallest crocodile and crocodilian as it does not exceed 3.9 ft.

18. Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis)

dwarf crocodile
Photo by Thesupermat on Wikimedia Commons licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 (Cropped from original).

The Dwarf crocodile only spans just 5 to 6 feet. The croc's compact build and broad snout add character to its physique, while bony armor provides durable protection. 

Streams and rivers in West and Central Africa's rainforests offer the perfect habitat for this nocturnal creature. Their broad diet includes small mammals, birds, amphibians, fish, and crustaceans. Solitary and timid by nature, they spend their days hidden in pools or their excavated burrows.

Crocodile Conservation Status

Even for the mighty crocodiles, survival isn't guaranteed. As apex predators, they face various threats, namely habitat loss, illegal hunting, pollution, and climate change.

The IUCN lists a few species as vulnerable and endangered. Five species are officially listed as critically endangered: the West African slender-snouted, Siamese, Philippine, Cuban, and Orinoco crocodiles. 

Significant efforts are underway to reverse this situation. Renowned organizations lead the conservation charge, including the World Wildlife Fund, The Crocodile Specialist Group, and local groups like the Mabuwaya Foundation in the Philippines. They tirelessly monitor populations, safeguard habitats, and implement captive breeding programs where necessary.

Despite ongoing challenges, there's hope for these ancient creatures. Support and awareness, alongside dedicated conservation efforts, will continue paving the path to survival for the world's crocodiles. Each stride made in conservation brings them closer to enduring as the stalwart survivors they truly are.

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