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What Do Crocodiles Eat? How Do These Large Semi-Aquatic Reptiles Feed?

Crocodiles go as far back as over 200 million years, and the ones we know today have evolved over 80 million years. While we try to understand their eating habits, we must also look at what has changed in these reptiles in their long evolution period.

Crocodiles have even outlived the extinct dinosaurs, and its secret of survival isn’t because of its solid bony plate covering or its strong jaw muscles. This isn’t to say that these adaptations have little to no use; in fact, crocodiles’ bodies are known to survive even the worst injuries, and they have an efficient immune system.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what crocodiles eat. However, before we go into detail, let’s briefly examine their origin, habitat, lifestyle, and behavior.

Origin and Brief Description of Crocodiles

Crocodiles come from the 23 species of the Crocodilia or Crocodylia group because of their lizard-like appearance and predatory nature. These reptiles have a fascinating appearance characterized by strong jaws with conical teeth that can crush any animal in its path.

They also have very short legs and clawed toes. Moreover, this creature’s massive tail is long and has a thick skin covering.

Scientists have found crocodilian fossils that date as far back as 155 million years. Researchers discovered that three major radiations happened during the era when analyzing these fossils. Only one made it to the modern era out of the four crocodile species that existed.

The Crocodilia order today comprises:

  • crocodiles,
  • alligators,
  • gavials, and
  • caimans.

The crocodiles are the largest of this group. The largest crocodile is the Nile crocodile in Africa, at 20 feet long and weighing over 2,200 pounds. The differences are also seen in their bony plate structure and the pattern of their scales.

Fun Fact — These predators don’t sweat; instead, they open their mouths to release heat.

Habitat, Lifestyle, and Survival of Crocodiles

You’ll find crocodiles living in lowland and humid climes, usually around the Northern and Southern Hemisphere. Many true crocodile species can be found in Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Northern Australia, Sri Lanka, Central America, East Indies, and Mexico.

Crocodiles have survived the extinction, and even today, their numbers are reduced due to the hunting activities of humans. The body parts of crocodiles are used as medicine, food, leather for shoes, bags, and other accessories.

These creatures have been killed occasionally by people living close to them. Sometime around 1970, countries started passing regulations to protect the depleting population of crocodiles. This involved the development of conservation centers, which, coupled with international intervention, helped preserve the population of these species.

This was a step taken to check the killing of this species quickly. According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), the Crocodilia species were facing the brink of extinction due to human activities in their habitat. Hence, to sustain these species, crocodile conservation became a sustainable measure.

Lifespan

Crocodiles can live up to 70 years or even more. However, there isn’t much information on their longevity. The only information available is of the captive crocodiles in conservation.

It’s not known if the crocodiles in the wild live longer. However, looking at the Nile crocodile, for instance, being the largest species, they can live up to 80 years. Hence, one can say that the average lifespan of true crocodiles is between 50 to 75 years.

Fun Fact  — Crocodiles can replace each of their 80 teeth 50 times in their lifetime.

Behavior

These predators are usually found in the water, and they can travel several kilometers on land. Most of them are nocturnal, and they prefer to retire in shaded areas if they’re not in the water. This is because these creatures like to thermoregulate — these semi-aquatic predators prefer to maintain body temperatures between 86°F and 90°F.

Like most nocturnal animals, crocodiles have vertical eyes with slit-shaped pupils that control the light entering them. They’re dominant creatures, and according to studies, are rarely territorial creatures, except for the saltwater crocodiles.

They also have a small brain structure even though they’re capable of complex behavior. Namely, the crocodile’s brain weighs just 11 grams, but these animals have a fast learning ability. All of these help them survive the wild and improve their interactions with other animals.

Fun Fact — Crocodiles can live for two years without food or water.

Types of Crocodiles Existing Today and What They Eat

In this section, we’ll examine a long list of the different extant crocodile species, their distribution, what they eat, as well as particular adaptations that promote their feeding habits.

1. American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)

This reptile found in America extends to the Pacific coast around Mexico. The American crocodile can also be found around areas like Florida and Puerto Rico. Adult males can grow as long as 20 feet and weigh 907 kg — they’re among the largest species in the world.

These crocodiles are opportunistic carnivores. The adult feeds on turtles, birds, fish, crabs, snakes, and other tiny mammals. Sometimes they can feed on decaying remnants of animals killed by other animals — these crocodiles on occasion feed on seedlings.

The American Crocodile is regarded as one of the most dangerous species as they have recorded attacks on humans on several occasions.

The young crocodiles feed on tiny fish, bugs, snails, and little meals. It’s only the adult crocodiles that go after larger prey. Generally, this crocodile is selective, and they can stay idle in water without making any movement, enabling them to target their unsuspecting prey efficiently.

Namely, when they catch prey in their clutches, the crocodile eats them whole. Notably, this crocodile is nocturnal, doing most of its hunting at night.

2. Slender-Snouted Crocodile (Crocodylus cataphractus)

Slender-Snouted Crocodile

The slender-snouted crocodile resides in the freshwater region of West and Central Africa. They grow up to 8.2 feet and weigh between 125 kg and 325 kg.

These crocodiles have a powerful jaw with razor-sharp teeth, and they belly-crawl through the mud. It’s also possible for them to stand on their four legs to walk over rough terrain.

This species is an outstanding hunter and has a perfect sense of smell and hearing. They attack their prey by lunging and gripping them with jaws and teeth.

The slender-snouted crocodile feeds mainly on fish, amphibians, and crustaceans. They also go after bigger mammals, most of which come to the river to drink from it.

The male crocodiles are lone hunters and like to show dominance. They usually raise their bodies high over the water to look bigger.

This species can live as long as 50 years or more. However, their species have been endangered due to hunting activities. Most indigenes kill them for meat and use their skin for leather.

They also have a shortage of food because of the overfishing in the region. In 2014, the IUCN listed this slender-snouted crocodile of Africa as one of the endangered species.

3. Orinoco Crocodile (Crocodylus intermedius)

Orinoco Crocodile

This crocodile dwells in the freshwaters of Venezuela and South America, Colombia to be precise. The crocodiles can be seen in the Orinoco River and its surrounding territories.

This species grows up to 13 feet, and they’re very large, similar to the American crocodile. The Orinoco crocodile can even grow up to 22 feet.

They’re the largest predators in the Americas. These crocodiles show dominance in hierarchies and are usually very slow except when hunting for prey. They also prefer to stay close to water to maintain their body temperature.

The Orinoco crocodile is an opportunistic carnivore like the American crocodile, and they prefer to strike out suddenly. They stay hidden from their prey and have the element of surprise.

This species feeds on small mammals, birds, fish, and smaller targets. The young crocodile goes for crabs, insects, snails, and fish.

The Orinoco crocodile has a developed sense of smell, sight, and hearing. They can easily detect frequencies from a wide coverage area, and their closed eye structure gives them precise binocular vision.

Their species thrive, and they often prefer to migrate, especially during the rainy season. Notably, the Orinoco crocodile will travel overland to nearby ponds or lakes until the river water recedes.

4. Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni)

Freshwater Crocodile (Crocodylus johnsoni)

You’ll find freshwater crocodiles predominantly in Northern Australia. They belong to the smaller species and have a more elongated snout. This crocodile can grow up to 9.8 ft long and weigh up to 60kg.

They’re also endangered species due to activities in their habitat. This time, not only because of the hunting activities of humans but also due to a species of cane toads that releases poison on the crocodiles when they try to eat them.

The freshwater crocodile is a slow-growing animal, and they prefer to live in rivers. They keep their eyes and nose above water so they can see the rest of the surface.

This crocodile feeds on fish, insects, and crustaceans. They like to prey on small animals, including birds and reptiles. Even adult crocodiles are known to prey on younger crocodiles.

The freshwater crocodile sometimes swallows stones to help with their digestion, and they can only drink from freshwater sources. This explains why you’ll find this crocodile in freshwater regions like the creeks, wetlands, billabongs, and rivers. Thankfully, the freshwater crocodile is no threat to humans.

5. Philippine Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis)

Philippine Crocodile

The Philippine crocodile is also one of the endangered species of crocodiles as they’re commercially exploited in this region. Also, the fishing practices in this region have made it difficult for this crocodile to survive in its habitat. However, the government has implemented measures to curtail and preserve this species.

The Philippine crocodile is found only in Dalupiri island, Ligawasan marsh, and Northern Luzon. They grow up to 10 ft long and weigh about 190 kg.

This species can be found only in freshwater, and their lifespan can be up to 80 years. The Philippine crocodile feeds on fish, snails, shrimp, birds, snakes, and small mammals.

Apart from living in freshwater, these crocodiles can also survive on the coastal and estuarine shores. They prefer to rest in the sun to keep warm. When they feel hot, these crocodiles are known to open their mouths to release some heat.

They float on the water’s surface and also swallow stones to aid their digestion. However, these crocodiles will move to more shallow ponds if the current is high.

6. Morelet’s Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii)

Morelet's Crocodile

The Morelet’s crocodile lives in the freshwater zones and is found in the Atlantic parts of Guatemala, Mexico, and Belize. They’re medium-sized with a length of 9.8 ft, and their species don’t pose any concern.

There are no threats of extinction for the Morelet’s crocodile. In the past, around the 1920s, this species was confused with the Cuban and American crocodiles. They have a similar structure with only one significant distinction — the Morelet’s crocodile has more aligned teeth in its upper and lower jaws, unlike other crocodiles.

They usually attack humans, most likely because they’re shy, and the Morelet’s crocodile moves actively, mostly at night.

This crocodile feeds on fish, snails, birds, and small mammals. They may hunt larger prey like turtles, lizards, birds, and dogs. The younger crocodiles only eat small fishes and invertebrates.

The Morelet’s crocodile has three sensory receptors, and they can be found on the top of the head, which in most cases, is submerged underwater. Namely, they have good sight, hearing, and smell.

7. Nile Crocodile (Crocodylus niloticus)

Nile Crocodile

The Nile crocodile is the second-largest, and they’re predominantly in the Sub-Saharan region. They can survive in the saline waters, primarily in lakes, rivers, and marshes.

The Nile crocodile grows between 11.6 ft and 16.5 ft long and weighs 410 kg. Some species have been recorded with a length of up to 19.6 ft and weighing a massive 900 kg.

They’re an apex predator and also go for opportunistic ways of attack. This species is very aggressive, and there have been many human attacks in the recent past, with reports claiming up to 300 human attacks annually.

The Nile crocodile boasts a forceful bite and can grip its prey very tightly such that it’s impossible to escape. Moreover, this predator can live for up to 60 years or more.

Nile crocodiles are carnivores that prey on fish, but adult crocodiles go for larger prey. You’ll see them attacking antelopes, zebras, buffalo, ostriches, and baboons. The Nile crocodile also feeds on rhinos, buffaloes, giraffes, and hippos but these attacks are rare.

The juvenile crocodiles feed on smaller fishes, insects, reptiles, and frogs. They move on to medium-sized prey as they grow older, like monkeys, deer, birds, turtles, and reptiles.

The Nile crocodile will keep the remnants of its prey, if unable to finish the meal, under logs or around the banks and will come back to eat them later. This species usually hunts alone but sometimes works together to bring down larger prey. There are no threats so far to their survival, so they’re not under any protection laws.

8. New Guinea Crocodile (Crocodylus novaeguineae)

New Guinea Crocodile

Indigenous to the New Guinea island, these crocs are found in both the North and Southern regions of the island, but they may likely be two different species. They live in freshwater lakes and swamps.

The New Guinea crocodile grows up to 11.5 ft, and their females are usually smaller at 9.8 ft. However, this species has a short lifespan of 24 years.

As carnivores, they feed on fish, frogs, snakes, turtles, birds, lizards, and other reptiles. The young crocodiles can eat small schools of fish and invertebrates. Thankfully, the New Guinea crocodile isn’t an endangered species.

Being semi-aquatic, they prefer to spend most of their time in the water, but you’ll also see them moving on land. They come out to get warmth from the sun, and when they get very hot, they stay in a shaded spot.

They’re also nocturnal animals and move more during the night. The New Guinea crocodile have predators of their own, and many times their young ones are attacked by wild boars and even sharks.

9. Mugger Crocodile (Crocodylus palustris)

Mugger Crocodile

The mugger crocodile is popular in Pakistan. They’re also known as the Persian crocodile, marsh crocodile, or Indian crocodile. Notably, they can be found around India and its surroundings.

This medium-sized crocodile belonging to the class of apex predators can have a length of up to 16 ft and weigh up to 700 kg. The mugger crocodile prefers to ambush its prey when attacking. They’re not always very aggressive and will cause a minor threat to humans.

These crocodiles are carnivores and like to consume larger mammals. They can take down prey as big as a buffalo. The juvenile mugger crocodiles go after fishes and crustaceans.

Fun Fact — The mugger crocodile can eat up to 25% of its body weight in one meal.

These crocodiles are known to dig burrows where they can hide during the day, especially when the temperature is at its hottest. Although they can live as long as 40 years or more, this species is among the vulnerable groups affected by the hunting activities of humans.

Predators that go after the mugger crocodile are usually after their eggs and hatchlings. They are also prey to tigers.

10. Saltwater Crocodile (Crocodylus porosus)

Saltwater Crocodile

The saltwater crocodile is the biggest predator reptile globally, and their males can have a length of over 20.7 ft and weigh up to 1,360 kg.

The saltwater crocodile survives mainly in water. Namely, they prefer saline habitats like lagoons, estuaries, deltas, and mangrove swamps. These crocodiles stay hidden mainly in the dark or murky water and can live up to 70 years.

You’ll find these reptiles in India, South Asia, and Australia. These crocodiles are carnivores and prey on anything they can grab with their teeth. Their young feed on small fish, insects, frogs, and invertebrates.

The saltwater crocodile usually attacks its prey by drowning, an act that puts them in the class of hyper carnivorous predators.

They’re very territorial and aggressive. This crocodile will overpower any animal that crosses its territory and kill them. Saltwater crocodiles also eat humans.

Some are seen eating bull sharks, kangaroos, jackals, orangutans, deer, monkeys, and many others. The only animal safe from their attacks is the Asian elephant, and they sometimes attack these crocodiles.

11. Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

Cuban Crocodile

These crocodiles are among the small-sized species. They live in freshwater marshes and rivers. The Cuban crocodile usually grows to 7.5 ft and can weigh up to 80 kg. Some medium-sized species can have a length of 11.5 ft and weigh up to 141 kg.

They’re considered aggressive and very dangerous to humans. This species can be found in places like the Isle of Youth and Zapata swamp in Cuba. You may also trace them to the Caribbean.

The Cuban crocodiles are among the critically endangered species due to hunting activities. They are carnivores, so they feed primarily on mammals, turtles, fish, and birds.

They attack their prey by leaping out from the water and grabbing them. They also have a powerful tail that allows them to push themselves through the water.

12. Siamese Crocodile (Crocodylus siamensis)

Siamese Crocodile

The Siamese crocodile is found in the Java Islands of Indonesia. They’re a widespread species in Vietnam, Cambodia, East Malaysia, Laos, Brunei, and Thailand.

These crocodiles are medium-sized at 6.9 ft and weigh up to 70 kg. The Siamese crocodile lives in freshwater habitats like lakes, rivers, marshes, and swamps.

They’re a highly endangered species and have been exploited in their habitat for meat, leather, and other things. They feed on small animals such as fishes, frogs, reptiles, mammals, birds, and invertebrates.

These crocodiles are tactical hunters and will hide to attack their prey. The Siamese crocodile launches to strike when the animals come to drink water, and then they drown it before consuming it.

This species doesn’t chew, so it’ll need to shake its prey until it tears to pieces before swallowing it. The crocodiles prefer slow-moving water and are very dominant. They have a dominant hierarchy where the more dominant crocodiles swim farther in the water than the less dominant ones.

13. West African Crocodile (Crocodylus suchus)

West African Crocodile

The West African crocodile is usually found around West Africa and the Sub-Saharan African region. It’s sometimes mistaken for the Nile crocodile. However, the West African crocodile isn’t as aggressive as the Nile species.

This crocodile grows as long as 13 ft and can weigh up to 748 kg. This species usually hunts for fish, mammals, reptiles, and birds.

The West African crocodile is prevalent in Benin, Nigeria, Cameroon, Guinea, and other West African parts. They’re found in the forest areas and wetlands in the region.

More specifically, you’ll find this crocodile species in the lagoons and river basins. This species is shyer than the Nile crocodile, so they prefer the estuaries instead of staying in large rivers.

The West African crocodile is considered a nocturnal animal and prefers solitude. They rarely gather, but these species are considered fast swimmers. They’re apex predator species and hardly ever receive any attacks from other species except humans.

The West African crocodile isn’t yet determined to be among the vulnerable species. However, residents in the West are involved in the skin trade, so they are being hunted.

14. Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis)

Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis)

The dwarf crocodile is another species found in West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa. These crocodiles grow up to 4.9 ft and are one of the smallest species, as suggested by their name.

They’re nocturnal and slow predators. The dwarf crocodile is also considered docile compared to the Nile and West African crocodiles. These crocodiles can be found in the lowland parts of the region. They feed on fishes, small mammals, and crustaceans.

FAQ

Do crocodiles eat each other?

Crocodiles primarily eat fish, large mammals, reptiles, and birds. However, they may turn on each other on rare occasions when there’s no food, and they need to survive.

What do baby crocodiles eat?

Baby crocodiles can only eat small fish, insects, and invertebrates. They’re too young to hunt for food, so they end up eating smaller animals and drinking from the water where they live.

Do crocodiles eat turtles?

Crocodiles are naturally carnivores and can eat various animals, including turtles. They usually sneak up on unsuspecting prey, and most animals won’t know they’re there since they can mimic the appearance of a log of wood.

Do crocodiles eat humans?

Crocodiles hardly target humans, but since they’re primarily opportunistic predators, they’ll grab at anything that moves. That said, they’ll likely attack humans if they fall prey to them.

What do saltwater crocodiles eat?

Saltwater crocodiles eat fish, mammals, birds, fish, bugs, frogs, other reptiles, and crustaceans. They usually go for larger prey.

Final Thoughts

Crocodiles, when compared to other animals, eat less food. They’re also one of the few predators that can’t chew, so they usually have their meals whole.

It’s exciting learning about these fascinating creatures. Crocodiles, for one, have proven to be resilient animals, and we must preserve their existence. These colossal predators are facing the brink of extinction with the increase in hunting activities. Hence, there’s a constant need to protect these creatures by setting up conservation centers and implementing laws against their widespread killing.

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