The Cuban Crocodile is a critically endangered species. What's threatening it? A history of hunting, habitat destruction, and, increasingly, the rise of a new group of crocodile hybrids, resulting from interbreeding with another crocodile species. The full story is after the jump.
I'm hooked on a feeling, you guys, and that feeling is love for Guardians of the Galaxy. I need more of this. But in the meantime I will content myself with writing about crocodilians.
The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is a smaller type of crocodile that can be found only in Cuba, and it has some unique characteristics that set it apart from other crocodilians. It lacks webbing between its toes that can be seen in other species, leading researchers to believe that it is comfortable with spending more time on land. It has vibrant coloring, even as an adult, which in other species is usually confined to hatchlings and juveniles. This coloring has earned it the nickname of "pearly crocodile."
Adult Cuban Crocodiles typically measure about 7.5 feet (2.3 meters) in total body length, and weigh about 180 pounds (80 kg). Larger males have been recorded at 11 feet (3.5 meters) in body length and 474 pounds (215 kg) in weight. Cuban Crocodiles have the smallest historical range of any crocodilian, and can only be found in two regions of Cuba: Lanier Swamp in the Isla de Juventud, and the Zapata Swamp in northwestern Cuba. Cuban Crocodiles have been known to interbreed in the wild with the American Crocodile, which can also be found in Cuba. While this hybridization occurs without human interference, it may still pose a threat to the continued survival of the Cuban Crocodile.
The diet of Cuban Crocodiles varies depending on the availability of prey and the size of the individual. Young Cuban Crocodiles will feed on smaller prey like fish, crustaceans, and arthropods, while larger and older crocs will feed on turtles, larger fish, and small mammals. They have been observed performing the leaping/feeding behavior that is well-known in American Alligators, thrusting themselves out of the water using their powerful tails. They are considered to be the most aggressive of all "New World" crocodilians, and often dominates the larger American Crocodiles when their habitats overlap. Aggressiveness towards humans has mostly been observed from individuals in captivity, as Cuban Crocodiles rarely encounter humans in the wild.
Breeding season for Cuban Crocodiles overlaps with the breeding season for American Crocodiles, which contributes to the hybridization that occurs between the two species. Female Cuban Crocodiles exhibit varied nesting behavior, usually digging nest-holes along the shore, but also sometimes building nest mounds out of the water. On average, they will lay a clutch of about 30 to 40 eggs, but due to predation from other animals as well as humans, only about one or two hatchlings will result from a clutch. The eggs will gestate for about 59 to 70 days, and the hatchlings are extremely small and vulnerable. The aggressive nature of the species means that juvenile Cuban Crocodiles are often killed.
Cuban Crocodiles are considered to be critically endangered by the IUCN, and they face a continued threat of habitat destruction even in their tiny range. They were heavily farmed for their skins back in the 1950s and 1960s, and are only now just starting to show the barest signs of recovery. Captive breeding programs are currently underway, but the hybridization that occurs with the American Crocodile threatens the gene pool from which the species can be maintained.