Crocodylus acutus characteristics, habitat, reproduction, behavior

Robert Johnston

Crocodylus acutus, Also called American crocodile, Tumbes crocodile, needle alligator or Pacific crocodile, it is a reptile that is part of the Crocodylidae family.

It is the most widespread species among the crocodiles that inhabit the Americas. Their populations range from southern Florida and the Mexican coasts, to Venezuela and southern Peru..

American crocodile. Source: Tomascastelazo [CC BY (]

In relation to the body, it can measure up to 5 meters and is covered by scaly armor. The color of the adult varies between grayish green and olive brown, with the belly in a light yellow tone.

One of the peculiarities that differentiates the needle alligator from the rest of the crocodiles is its snout. This is long and wide, thus allowing the animal to eat animals of different sizes.

This species can tolerate waters with a high degree of salinity, which is why it lives both in freshwater rivers and estuaries, as well as on beaches and in hypersaline lakes..

Article index

  • 1 Features
    • 1.1 Coloring
    • 1.2 Head
    • 1.3 Body
    • 1.4 Size
  • 2 Habitat and distribution
    • 2.1 Distribution
    • 2.2 Habitat
    • 2.3 Burrow
  • 3 Taxonomy
  • 4 State of conservation
    • 4.1 Threats
    • 4.2 Actions
  • 5 Food
  • 6 Playback
    • 6.1 Mating
  • 7 Behavior
    • 7.1 Sunbathing
  • 8 Communication
  • 9 References 



The adult American alligator has an olive brown or grayish-green dorsal region of its body. In contrast, the ventral area is white or yellow. As for the juvenile, it has a light brown tone, with dark bands on the back and on the tail..


The head of the Crocodylus acutus it is narrow and the snout is long, an aspect that differentiates it from alligators. This species has two strong jaws, where the teeth are located. In the upper jaw there are 30 to 40 teeth, while in the lower jaw there are 28 to 32. The teeth are sharp and interlock with each other.

The snout of the Tumbes crocodile is broader than that of other species of its genus. This allows the animal to supplement its diet with a wide variety of prey. In addition, this structure widens and becomes more voluminous as the reptile matures..

In relation to the eyes, they have nictitating membranes. These are transparent sheets that are located behind the main eyelids. They slide transversely over the surface of the eye. Its function is to protect and prevent the desiccation of said organ.

The needle alligator has ears, eyes, and nostrils located on the top of its head. In this way, the animal can hide under water, keeping said organs on the surface. Thus, it can go unnoticed and surprise its prey..

In this video you can see a specimen of this species:


The body is covered with ossified shields, arranged in rows. These scales are distributed from the back to the tail. The American crocodile is distinguished from other species of the genus Crocodylus because his scaly armor is reduced.

The legs are sturdy and short. In relation to the tail, it is very powerful and extremely long, being used by the animal to swim. For this, the reptile moves its body and tail in a meandering way, thus being able to reach speeds of up to 32 km / h.

To move on land, this species generally crawls on its belly, although it can also "walk high", reaching almost 16 km / h.


Pacific crocodile hatchlings are 27 centimeters long and weigh about 60 grams. As for the adult male that inhabits continental rivers, its body can have a length of 2.9 to 4 meters and a weight of up to 382 kilograms. The female is 2.5 to 3 meters tall and has a body mass of 173 kilograms.

This species presents variations in its size, associated with the region where it lives. Thus, the needle caiman that lives in the Tárcoles River (Costa Rica) reaches 5 meters, while those on the islands or coasts are much smaller. For example, in Florida, an adult can reach a length of 2.5 to 2.85 meters.

Habitat and distribution


The Crocodylus acutus it has the widest distribution of all New World crocodiles. This extends in the Atlantic, from southern Florida, Jamaica, Hispaniola and the Caribbean islands of Cuba, to Venezuela and Colombia. In the Grijalva river basin there is a subpopulation, which is isolated.

In addition, this species inhabits the entire length of the Pacific coast. Thus, it ranges from the north of Sinaloa (Mexico) to the mangrove areas, north of Peru..

The Tumbes crocodile is abundant in Costa Rica. However, one of the largest populations is in Lake Enriquillo, a highly saline body of water that is located in the Dominican Republic..

Recently, experts have sighted some of these crocodiles on Grand Cayman Island, where they probably came swimming from Cuba..


The American alligator, unlike the American alligator, is extremely susceptible to low temperatures. Because of this, it lives exclusively in tropical waters.

The reason why it has colonized a large number of Caribbean and Atlantic islands is its great tolerance to salt water. However, it is found in a wide range of habitats, such as river mouths, freshwater reservoirs, mangroves, and salt lakes..

Also, the Crocodylus acutus It is found in brackish aquatic environments, such as swamps and estuaries. Regarding altitude, it prefers ecosystems that are up to 1,200 meters above sea level..

Sandy_R [CC BY (]


This species creates complex burrowing systems, which it uses in the event that the water level drops. Also, this shelter is used to hide from predators or to rest, in the event that the temperature turns cold..

When building it, he does so taking into account that it can move freely within it, so the shelter is large. In addition, it generally has a depth of approximately 60 centimeters.

The inlet can be totally or partially submerged in water. In relation to the location of the burrow, the reptile usually chooses an area close to a reliable source of its food. In this way, they do not feel the need to leave the area, except during the reproductive season..


-Animal Kingdom.

-Subkingdom: Bilateria

-Phylum: Chordate.

-Subfilum: Vertebrate.

-Infrafilum: Gnathostomata.

-Superclass: Tetrapoda.

-Class: Reptilia.

-Order: Crocodilia.

-Family: Crocodylidae.

-Gender: Crocodylus.

-Species: Crocodylus acutus.

State of conservation

The Pacific crocodile is included within the group of animals that are vulnerable to extinction. This is because the IUCN considers that the notable decrease in its population may be caused by the disappearance of its natural environment..



Starting in the 1930s, this species was hunted and overexploited by man to obtain its skin, something that was carried away in an excessive way until protective actions were taken in the 70s. However, he continues to be poached today..

Another factor that afflicts this reptile is the degradation of its habitat. In this sense, the areas where it lives have been subjected to coastal development, which has repercussions in the destruction of the nests. In addition, the mangrove area is being used for shrimp aquaculture..

On the other hand, the construction of roads, close to the natural environment of this animal, results in the collision of the animal with vehicles, causing its death..


Protection measures exist in most of the countries where the Tumbes crocodile is distributed. However, it is necessary to apply the proposed actions, since illegal capture continues to be the main threat to the species..

The Crocodylus acutus It is included in Appendix I of CITES. In addition, there are some sanctuaries and protected areas, as well as several captive breeding programs. In relation to these actions, experts recently conducted a review of the distribution and status of the needle alligator..

The data indicates that the New World reptile is recovering in some of its natural habitats. However, in other regions it is very limited or almost non-existent, as in Colombia and Ecuador..


The Pacific crocodile is a carnivore. Their diet varies as the animal develops. Thus, hatchlings and juveniles eat aquatic invertebrates and their larvae, insects that hunt on land, fiddler crabs, and snails..

Subadults often feed on small mammals, insects, frogs, fish, birds, and small turtles. In relation to adults, their diet is much more extensive, including raccoons, sea turtles, opossums, snakes, large crabs and marine fish, such as tilapia..

They also capture birds, among which are herons, flamingos, pelicans and storks. Occasionally, the Crocodylus acutus can eat carrion from large mammals, such as cattle.

The needle alligator usually hunts during the early hours of the night, however, they can feed at any time of the day. To capture aquatic prey, it does so when they are close to the surface. Thus, he waits patiently for them to reach the water's edge, ambushes them, and then drags them down, to drown them..


In this species, size is a determining factor for their reproductive capabilities. Thus, the female reaches sexual maturity when her body measures around 2.8 meters, while the male can mate with a length between 1.8 and 2.4 meters..

The Pacific crocodile breeds in late fall or early winter. One of the characteristics of this process is the lengthy courtship ceremonies, which can last up to two months..

Among the behaviors exhibited in this ritual is territoriality, where males confront each other for access to the female. The winning male begins to roar loudly. At the same time, he raises his head and opens his mouth, thus showing his impressive teeth. The female responds to the male by emitting her own roars.


After copulation, the gravid female begins to build the nest, choosing for this an open area, which is usually above the high water mark. The nest can be up to 1.5 meters deep and 1.8 meters in diameter..

Once the female lays the eggs, which are generally between 30 and 60, she covers the nest with soil. As for the incubation period, it lasts between 75 and 80 days. At this time, both parents watch over the nest, although it is the female who protects the eggs with great ferocity..


Most of its life, the needle alligator is a solitary animal. In its natural habitat, it prefers to be alone, moving away from any disturbing situation that occurs around it. However, if threatened, this reptile can become very aggressive..

On the other hand, the behaviors of the American crocodile are associated with the seasons and environmental conditions. Thus, almost all social interactions take place at dawn or at night, before the sun warms your body. During the day, the animal is inactive.

Generally, at night, the Pacific crocodile is submerged in water. This is because the water has a slow cooling process, thus allowing the animal to maintain its internal heat for a prolonged period of time..

Also, during the summer, the Pacific crocodile becomes lethargic. In this period, the animal buries itself in the mud and significantly reduces its food intake.


The Crocodylus acutus sunbathes with an open mouth, with the intention of regulating body temperature. This behavior, known as "gaping," is also used to increase metabolic rate..

In this sense, at low temperatures, digestion tends to be slow, which implies that the animal must invest a lot of energy in food processing. On the contrary, when the body is hot due to the action of the sun's rays, the digestive process is much more efficient.


One of the ways that the Tumbes crocodiles use to communicate is through vocalizations. In relation to this, the most striking sound is the roar. This is used by the male to defend the territory, and to attract females in heat..

In addition, this reptile can create infrasonic sounds, these vibrations being that come from the reptile's abdominal area. They are used during the mating season to woo potential mates.

On the other hand, the offspring issue calls for help to the mothers, causing them to take actions to protect them.

Another way of expressing that the Pacific crocodile has is to hit the water hard with its tail and with its head. In this way, the animal shows its aggressiveness, in the presence of a threat.

Body position is used to express submission or dominance. Thus, the dominant male swims along the river, exposing his entire body. Contrarily, while swimming, the submissive female and males display only the head or muzzle.


  1. Wikipedia (2020). American crocodile. Recovered from
  2. Fishman, J., K. MacKinnon (2009). Crocodylus acutus. Animal Diversity Web. Recovered from
  3. ITIS (2020). Crocodylus acutus. Retrieved from
  4. The reptile database (2020). Crocodylus acutus (CUVIER, 1807). Recovered from
  5. Louis A. Somma, Pam Fuller, Ann Foster. (2020). Crocodylus acutus Cuvier, 1807: U.S. Geological Survey, Nonindigenous Aquatic Species Database, Gainesville. Recovered from
  6. Ponce-Campos, P., Thorbjarnarson, J., Velasco, A. (IUCN SSC Crocodile Specialist Group) 2012. Crocodylus acutus. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2012. Recovered from

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