Crocodiles and alligators are related and have a lot in common. They can be hard to tell apart if you don’t know what to look for. Both are reptiles in the crocodilian family, both look like large, armor-plated lizards and both have big mouths filled with plenty of sharp teeth. One of the easiest ways to tell them apart is to take a good look at their snouts, where a few differences are apparent.
Crocodile and alligator snouts have distinctly different shapes. An alligator’s snout is rounded on the end and appears blunt and heavy, while a crocodile’s snout tapers down sharply, almost to a point. When viewed from above, the outline of an alligator’s snout looks something like the letter U while the crocodile’s snout is more V-shaped. The caiman, a close relative of the two, has a blunt snout similar to that of an alligator.
When either an alligator or a crocodile has its mouth open, lots of teeth are in evidence, but there’s no obvious difference between the two. This changes when these big reptiles close their mouths all the way; then it’s easy to tell them apart. The crocodile’s fourth tooth on each side of its jaw remains visible, protruding down over the lower jaw. When an alligator closes its mouth, all of the teeth fit inside and disappear from view.
Body color is another area where these two crocodilians differ. The difference is apparent on their snouts as well as the rest of their bodies. Crocodiles are a medium grayish-green and even in the water they don’t appear to be very dark. Alligators are much darker, especially when wet. If you’re looking at one of these animals in a river or lake and all you can see is part of its head, the snout color will usually give away its identity.
Both alligator and crocodile snouts contain extremely powerful jaws that can easily crush turtle shells or hold other prey while the crocodilian eats. An adult crocodile or alligator has a snout strong enough to catch, hold and eat anything from small mammals or fish up to full-grown horses and cattle. Crocodilians spend a lot of time mostly submerged so they can sneak up on prey. Nostrils on top of their snouts and ears on top of their heads help them stay underwater as much as possible.
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