The Difference Between the Alligators & Crocodiles of the Everglades

People often ask us, “What is the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?” The Florida Everglades is famous for many things, one of them being the only environment on earth in which American Alligators and American Crocodiles coexist in harmony. You are very likely to see these reptiles during your Everglades airboat tour, and you may be wondering what the difference is between the two. While they are related and do look very similar, crocodiles and alligators in the Everglades have some major differences. Everglades Holiday Park provides fun airboat tours in South Florida that the entire family will enjoy. Read below for the main differences between alligators and crocodiles.

Saltwater Crocodiles vs. American Crocodiles in the Everglades

American crocodiles do live in the Everglades, and their numbers have greatly increased since 1975. Even so, you’re much more likely to see alligators than an American crocodile. South Florida is just within the northernmost area of their range. There are no saltwater crocodiles living in Florida. Saltwater crocodiles typically live in Southeast Asia, northern Australia, and Micronesia. Saltwater crocodiles are able to ride the surf and slowly travel long distances in the ocean, but only to islands and nearby areas, so there is no chance of them making their way over to the United States.


Alligators and crocodiles are from the same scientific order but from different families. They are both members of the Crocodylia, but crocodiles are from the Crocodylidae family, while alligators come from the Alligatordae family. And this is just the beginning of understanding the difference between alligators and crocodiles.


Crocodiles exist both in freshwater and saltwater, whereas alligators prefer freshwater environments. The Florida Everglades is the only place on earth in which crocodiles and alligators live together.


The most obvious difference comes from their appearances. Crocodiles have longer, pointier snouts; alligators have shorter, more rounded snouts. When an alligator has its mouth shut, only their upper teeth are visible. In contrast, when a crocodile has its mouth shut, it shows off a toothy grin with upper and lower teeth visible. Because they are broader, alligator snouts are stronger than crocodile snouts, allowing them to crush hard-shelled prey like turtles. Crocodiles are typically lighter, with tans and brown colors; alligators are darker, showing more gray and black colors.


When people search “difference between alligator and crocodile?” they want to know what special skills alligators and crocodiles have. Both members have an extremely heightened sense, which makes them excellent hunters. With sharp, above-water vision, night vision, sensitive hearing, and vertical pupils that take in additional light, both alligators and crocodiles are a nightmare for their prey. And, with above-water vision, you can expect to see them peeping their eyes up during your Everglades airboat tour.

Both animals have small sensory pits along their jaws that allow them to detect pressure changes in the water and to locate and capture prey. Neither reptile is a big fan of chewing their food; they prefer to swallow large chunks or swallow the whole animal. Crocodiles have higher functioning lingual salt glands, which allows them to excrete higher amounts of salt from water than alligators can. Alligators’ glands do not function as strongly; therefore, they are less tolerant to saltwater environments and prefer freshwater. With this capability, crocodiles are successful in migrating across multiple marine bodies.


Crocodiles are often regarded as much more aggressive than alligators. While you should avoid contact with both animals at all costs, alligators in the Everglades tend to be more docile than crocodiles, only attacking if hungry or provoked. Crocodiles are known to attack just because someone or something is near them; crocodiles tend to be more active in the water. Alligators in the Everglades prefer to lounge or sunbathe on the banks or in the mud close to the water, so they can easily be spotted while driving on Alligator Alley or while enjoying an Everglades airboat tour.


Studies have reported that a high percentage of female alligators will continuously mate with the same male alligators for life. On the other hand, it is typical for young batches of crocodile babies to come from multiple adult males during the mating season. For crocodilians, eggs can have the sex of hatchlings determined by the temperature of incubation. Cooler eggs will result in mostly females, and warmer eggs will be mostly males. This ability for temperature to influence mostly males or mostly females is called temperature-dependent sex determination (TSD).


Another question we receive when people are searching “FAQ: the difference between alligator and crocodile” is how long alligators and crocodiles live. Crocodiles live longer than alligators. The average lifespan of a crocodile is between 70-100 years, while the average lifespan of an alligator is usually between 30-50 years. If you take an airboat tour of the Everglades with Everglades Holiday Park, the airboat captains may be able to point out some crocodiles they have seen for years and years.

The Everglades: A Rare Habitat for Both Alligators and Crocodiles

The Significance of Freshwater Habitats in the Everglades

Because of the slightest elevation slope, less than 2 inches per mile, water moves from the Lake Okeechobee area through the Everglades and into Florida Bay. These freshwater areas become brackish in areas of the Everglades as it mixes with saltwater. This slight elevation is also responsible for many different types of habitats, including sloughs, marshes, pinelands, hammocks, and several types of swamps. As the Everglades and freshwater habitats have shrunk over the decades, so has the population of many birds, plants, and other animals. Freshwater plays a pivotal role for wildlife in South Florida.

Coexisting in Harmony: An Everglades Phenomenon

The Everglades is the only place on the globe where alligators and crocodiles live side-by-side. Anywhere else, you will only find one or the other. Believe it or not, they do co-exist. Crocodilians are not friendly with each other in general, but it doesn’t seem that alligators and crocodiles have any worse relationship.

Burmese pythons, on the other hand, are a problem in the Everglades. They are not native to Florida, and, once introduced, their numbers began to multiply. They now compete for much of the same food as American alligators and will even fight with and kill the alligators themselves! First seen in the Everglades in 1979, Buremese pythons exploded in numbers after Hurricane Andrew destroyed a breeding facility in 1992. The pythons are a threat to small animals and wading birds in the Everglades. They will not live in saltwater but can tolerate saltwater for periods of time. Scientists believe it is very unlikely that this invasive species could ever be eradicated from Florida, even with much effort.

Crocodiles in other parts of the world have developed a very harmonious friendship with capybara. The capybara, known for being a very social and friendly animal, is a semi-aquatic mammal. Though they are opportunistic feeders, crocodiles will not eat capybara. Instead, they hang out with these calm and relaxed animals. Perhaps because capybara do not flee like other prey, crocodiles are just not interested. This crocodile and mammal connection has not been seen with crocodiles or alligators in the Everglades.

True Saltwater Crocodiles

Many Crocodilian Species

There may be some confusion around which type of crocodile lives side-by-side with the American alligator in the Everglades. This is because there are actually many types of other crocodiles. There are 14 species of Crocodylus, two species of slender-snouted crocodiles in sub-Saharan Africa, and two species of nocturnal crocodiles in West and Middle Africa. These nocturnal crocodiles are small and mysterious.

Most crocodiles actually live outside of the United States. Of the 14 species of Crocodylus, Crocodylus acutus is the only one to be found in the United States. This is what we call the American Crocodile. Many of the species have names linked to the area they can be found like the Cuban crocodile, Borneo crocodile, and West African crocodile, to name a few. Additionally, five extinct crocodile species have been discovered through fossils.

Many people have heard of Nile crocodiles. Not surprisingly, Nile crocodiles live in sub-Saharan Africa and were once found in greater numbers in and along the Nile River. Humans have now encroached on their habitat, so they are seen less in Egypt, and this habitat loss throughout Africa has resulted in population declines. The Nile crocodile is native to freshwater habitats and helps to keep the environmental balance in check.

India’s east coast has Nile crocodiles but their most common crocodile species is the Mugger Crocodile. Male Mugger Crocodiles have been known to approach 18 feet in length, which is almost as long as male saltwater crocodiles. Interestingly, Mugger Crocodiles have the broadest snout of all living crocodiles.

Habitats Around the World

You will not see true saltwater crocodiles, or Crocodylus porosus, in the wild of the Everglades. They are, however, found in huge numbers around the world. Saltwater crocs can be found across northern Australia, Southeast Asia, and eastern parts of India. Though they thrive in marine environments, these versatile Saltwater crocodiles do just fine enjoying freshwater, especially during the tropical wet season. In fact, saltwater crocodile hatchlings spend the beginning of their lives in freshwater habitats. Southeast Asia is also home to crocodile monitor lizards, but don’t be fooled! These monitor lizards are not part of the crocodylus family.

In northern Australia, these massive creatures, also called estuarine crocodiles, can grow to be over twenty feet long! In fact, estuarine crocodiles are the largest living reptile in the world. Australian saltwater crocodiles, commonly called ‘salties,’ are found on the northern coast, including the Adelaide River. Salties in the Adelaide River can get quite close to tour boats and can be quite terrifying, given their enormous size! Not far away are cousins to Australian saltwater crocodiles in the Solomon Islands.

The Estuarine Crocodile: An Extreme Creature

Saltwater crocodiles are the largest crocodile species in the entire world, and many of the facts surrounding them are pretty extreme. Male saltwater crocodiles can grow over 20 feet long, and a large male saltwater crocodile can weigh over 2,000 pounds. Adult females are smaller but still around 10 feet long. The average female saltwater crocodile will weigh around 400 pounds.

Adult saltwater crocodiles are not only the largest crocodile species but also have the greatest bite force of any animal. They are able to exert this force onto large prey for an unbelievable amount of time. They do not back down to large prey and the largest saltwater crocodiles will catch animals as big as buffalo.

A Saltwater crocodile is larger and more aggressive than a freshwater crocodile. We hear about alligators being mostly scared of humans but not crocodiles. These huge reptiles will attack humans and are responsible for hundreds of deaths each year. Put that together with the fact that saltwater crocodiles live in all types of water, and you’re looking at one dangerous animal!

Threats to the Saltwater Crocodile

Saltwater crocodiles do not have natural predators, as they are apex predators in their habitats. Humans, though, have hunted saltwater crocodiles for many years. We have threatened their numbers as they are killed for their meat, skin, and even eggs. This, along with habitat destruction, has led to a population decline. Even so, saltwater crocodiles live on in good numbers and are labeled Least Concern.

Kids Like To Ask: Are Alligators Actually Big Lizards?

Alligators are actually not lizards. Though they are reptiles and they do look like oversized versions of our little friends, alligators are actually more closely tied to birds than lizards.

Did You Know There Are Alligator Lizards?

Yes! Alligators are not lizards, but they do have a friend who looks similar, called the alligator lizard.

Alligator lizards are many colors ranging from teal blue to deep green. They have pale yellow bellies and a yellow ring around each of their eyes. As with many animals, the males tend to be more vibrant than the females and the young lizards are more muted but with dark, lateral stripes.

The name for these lizards comes from a reference to the fact that the back and belly scales of alligator lizards are reinforced by bone just like they are with alligators.

These lizards can live up to ten years, and they love to eat insects.

Northern Alligator Lizard Vs Southern Alligator Lizard

There are many difference between these two types of lizards, including shape, size, and coloration, but a major difference is that the Southern lizard lays eggs while the Northern lizard is ovoviviparous, which means that fertilized eggs develop within the females until the young are ready to hatch. It gives the appearance of bearing “live young,” but they still stay within the walls of an egg until they’re ready to be born.


  • Why do crocodiles prefer brackish water in the Everglades? Crocodiles are known to prefer salinity or saltwater and live in lagoons, mangroves, and other brackish waters. Their bodies are well-equipped to handle saltwater and brackish water. As apex predators, as well as opportunistic feeders, they may eat any marine animals they encounter in or near coastal waters.
  • How does the Everglades support both saltwater and freshwater crocodilians? The Everglades has access to saltwater, fresh water, and brackish water, so American alligators and crocodiles can both spend time in various water habitats. Saltwater environments provide some of the crocodilian diet, though they aren’t picky eaters!
  • Are there specific regions in the Everglades where I’m more likely to spot an American crocodile? You are more likely to see an American crocodile at the Flamingo Marina, where the coastal waters make the water brackish. They can be found sunbathing, swimming, or resting in mangroves.
  • What are the main physical differences between adult saltwater crocodiles and American crocodiles in the Everglades? You want to look at the snout. Alligators have a rounded, U-shaped snout, while crocodiles have a pointier V-shape. Additionally, alligators are a darker color, while crocodiles are a greyish-green.
  • How do American crocodiles manage to excrete excess salt in the Everglades’ environment? Crocodiles are very well-made for saltwater environments, and American crocodiles have special glands so they are able to get rid of excess salt.
  • Why do we see more alligators than crocodiles during Everglades airboat tours? There are many, many more alligators than crocodiles living in the Everglades and South Florida. Even though crocodile numbers have climbed, they are a rarity compared to alligators.
  • How do the behaviors of alligators differ from those of crocodiles in the freshwater swamps of the Everglades? Crocodiles tend to be more aggressive than alligators, though either species can protect young or be aggressive during their breeding season.
  • Is it true that saltwater crocodiles in the Everglades can migrate across long distances in various water systems? Crocodiles going in the saltwater of the Everglades are not true saltwater crocodiles and will not migrate long distances in saltwater. True saltwater crocodiles, like those of southeast Asia and northern Australia, are the ones who will ride the currents and have been known to travel quite far.
  • What role do freshwater rivers play in the life cycle and behavior of American crocodiles in the Everglades? Freshwater rivers allow the salinity of brackish water to stay balanced in the American crocodile’s favor. Though they can tolerate saltwater, there have been studies to show that their population decreases where salinity is not decreased or balanced, while their population increases in well-balanced areas. These river systems are important to the health of the species.


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