If you’re looking for alligators in Africa, prepare to be disappointed. But not to worry, the continent is home to the alligator’s bigger brother, the crocodile. They’re so similar, it’s easy to confuse one with the other.
While both come from the same order – Crocodilia – they come from completely different taxonomic families. While you will find crocodiles in Africa, alligators are mostly found in America and China.
So if you are traveling in Africa and spot one of these scaly reptiles sunbathing on river banks or lurking in the murky waters, you can be sure that it is a crocodile and not an alligator.
And if you’re visiting Africa in pursuit of interesting animals, you can check out gorilla sanctuaries or one of the many game reserves.
So let’s dive right in and explore some of the big questions and intrigues around these ancient creatures.
Crocodile vs Alligator – What’s The Difference?
While the two appear to look the same, there are a couple of differences that you can look out for.
For one, an alligator’s teeth are barely visible when its mouth is closed – with the lower teeth fitting snugly into the upper jaw. A crocodile’s teeth, however, are always visible. In addition to this, alligators have a broader snout than crocodiles.
When it comes to their coloring, alligators tend to be closer to a gray or black color while crocodiles appear more olive-green or brown. Both blend into their environment exceptionally well.
Some crocodiles, such as the impressive Nile crocodile, are around 5 meters long. But they have been reported to reach lengths of up to 6 meters. Alligators, however, usually come in at around 4 meters, with the record sizes being around 5 meters.
Crocodiles are much more confrontational and temperamental than their counterparts. Alligators tend to make a run for it when they feel threatened, while crocodiles are known to be actively aggressive and violent creatures.
Crocs inhabit places all around the world. Their habitat includes Africa, Asia, Australia, and the Americas.
While both species can tolerate saltwater conditions, crocodiles are better adapted for it. They have special glands that can filter out the salt.
With regard to their nesting, there is an important difference between the two. Both need ideal conditions for hatching to occur. But crocodiles search for sandy banks to lay their eggs while alligators look for spots covered by vegetation.
There are two main alligator species, namely the American alligator and the Chinese alligator.
The American alligator, otherwise known as Alligator mississippiensis and colloquially referred to as ‘gator’, can be found in the Southeastern states. So if you’re wondering what states have alligators in them and therefore what states to avoid (or to seek out), here is your lowdown.
American Alligators inhabit Florida and Louisiana as well as southern parts of Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi. North and South Carolina, Eastern Texas, and Oklahoma all the way to South Arkansas, are all gator territory too.
The Chinese cousin, the Alligator sinensis, commonly referred to as the Yangtze alligator, inhabits the region of Eastern China.
There were several other extinct species that date back as far as 37 million years ago. And the current species haven’t evolved much from their dinosaur counterparts.
Nile Crocodile vs American Crocodile
American alligators have some interesting neighbors, the American crocodiles, which differ to their well-known cousins the Nile crocodile.
Nile crocodiles are native to freshwater environments such as lakes, rivers, swamps, and marshlands. They are capable of living in more saline environments as well but are rarely found in saltwater areas.
The American crocodile, however, largely inhabits coastal areas and prefers saltiness. This species is therefore commonly found in brackish lakes, mangrove swamps, lagoons, and even small islands around South America.
So while other crocodiles can tolerate saltwater, the American crocodile is the only crocodile species other than the saltwater crocodile to live and thrive in saltwater.
The Nile crocodile is generally known to be the second-largest crocodile species, second to the saltwater crocodile. They feast on large prey, like wildebeest during the Great Migration. This reinforces that to these reptiles, no creature big or small is exempt from becoming prey.
Do Alligators Eat Humans?
Unlike crocodiles who have a tendency to attack humans; alligators tend to retreat if approached by people. They are much more timid than crocodiles, and when they feel threatened they are likely to walk or swim away.
However, while attacks are uncommon, they aren’t unheard of. The danger comes in when humans take this timidness as an ‘all clear’ to approach the animal. Once these scaly creatures lose their fear of humans they may begin to associate them with food instead.
How do Alligators Eat Their Prey?
This is one of the most-asked alligator questions out there. Probably because there is some kind of morbid curiosity for the brutish way that these animals kill and feed.
Despite these creatures having heavy-set bodies, they are capable of impressive bursts of speed over short distances. Their main prey is smaller animals, and they can kill and eat them with a single bite.
The muscles that close an alligator’s jaw are exceptionally powerful allowing them to possess an impressive grip on their prey. However, the muscles for opening their jaw are comparatively weak. This makes them far from gifted chewers as their jaws are more suited for a clampdown and hold action.
Despite this, they are not known to always pick on prey their own size. Fascinatingly enough, they will also take on prey as big as full-grown cattle. This is made possible by grabbing on and dragging them down into the water to drown.
Their chewing weakness means that this non-bite-sized food can be eaten only once they’ve allowed it to rot adequately. Alternatively, they will violently spin their prey into tumult until bite-sized chunks can be torn off. This is known as the “death roll”.
This all certainly paints a rather unsettling and unappetizing image.
Final Words on Alligators and Crocodiles in Africa & Beyond
So if you are looking for a scaly reptile in Africa, then a crocodile is what you will find. If it is an alligator you are after then you may want to head to America or China.
You can decide which one makes it into your good books or which one sends you running for the hills. We suspect that the somewhat friendlier alligator may be slightly in the lead.
Either way, your curiosity has possibly been quenched – perhaps further ignited, or you can simply take this as your friendly warning that these guys are not to be messed with.