I know you all feel it keenly when a Sunday goes past without the chance to learn about big-ass reptiles, but fear not. Today is not that Sunday.
The American Crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) is widely-distributed along the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of Central and South America, as well as many of the Caribbean islands like Jamaica, the West Indies and Cayman Islands, Cuba, and Hispanola. The American Crocodile prefers a certain degree of salinity in its habitat waters, so while it does live in inland river systems it prefers the brackish waters of coastal swamps, lagoons and lakes. It's the only species of Crocodilian other than the saltwater crocodile to prefer to live in some degree of saltwater on a continuous basis, and can be found on beaches and islands.
Adult male American Crocodiles grow to an average of 14 feet long (4.3 meters) and weigh approximately 842 pounds (382 kg). Adult females are smaller, growing up to 9.8 feet (3 meters) in body length and weighing 381 pounds (173 kg). Particularly large specimens have been observed in the Tarcoles River in Costa Rica, where they are a popular tourist attraction. These crocodiles can measure up to 5 meters. Similarly-sized individuals have also been observed in Florida, but the largest animals are said to live in the river basins of South America.
The American Crocodiles that live within the borders of the United States co-exist with the American Alligators, but they require tropical temperatures to survive, which is why their range in the United States does not exactly overlap with that of their cousins. They also co-exist with other crocodilian species in the Caribbean Islands and South America. They feed primarily on fish, but not exclusively. Its broad snout is an adaptation that allows its diet to be more broad than narrower-snouted crocodilians. Other animals taken by American Crocodiles include birds, turtles, frogs, crustaceans and even cattle.
American Crocodiles breed late in the year, and by February or March the gravid females will begin to exhibit nesting behavior, scraping together sand, rotting vegetation and mud to lay their eggs inside. Like the American Alligator, the genders of the hatchlings are temperature-dependent, so finding a good nesting site that will result in a mix of males and females, instead of all-male or all-female clutches, is crucial. There will be 30 to 70 eggs laid in a nest, depending on the size of the mother. The incubation period of the eggs is about 70-80 days. The mother will attend the hatchlings, uncovering them and holding them in her mouth for safe-keeping. After five weeks, the hatchlings will disperse to make their way in the world.
American Crocodiles are hunted for their hides, and adults are captured for farming, which puts it in a precarious position in parts of its range. It is considered to be threatened in some parts of its range, which means that while it is still sometimes poached, it is protected from hunting. They are more likely to be aggressive toward humans than American Alligators, but actual attacks on humans are both rare and poorly documented.