Is there a Smile on that Crocodile?
This American Crocodile certainly looks happy. I imagine it is smiling because it survived South Florida’s record cold snap. In actuality it is “gaping” to regulate body temperature. In January, more than 70 crocodiles perished from the cold along Florida’s southernmost coastline— the only place in the United States where the endangered American Crocodile lives. This crocodile is sunning itself in Everglades National Park’s Eco Pond near Flamingo.
On recent trip to the shore southeast of Miami, I found these two sleepy crocodiles warming themselves on the shores of a saltwater lagoon. Reptiles of salt or brackish water habitats, they are distinguished from the American Alligator by their gray-green hide and a narrow snout with the fourth tooth visible on the lower jaw when the mouth is closed. Juveniles have olive-brown skin and tail bands. Alligators have a black hide and much wider snout without the toothy grin.
Males can reach up to 23 feet in length; however those inhabiting US waters seldom grow longer than 15 feet. This big boy looks as he is approaching that limit. American Crocodiles tend to be shy creatures unlike their more aggressive African relatives.
Crocodiles are more social within their species than other reptiles. They also possess a more complex brain, an excellent sense of smell, and a superior ability to perceive sound. Researchers note that they are able to learn to avoid dangerous circumstances.
Until the freeze, Florida crocodiles had shown an encouraging increase in population. Their endangered status is thought to be caused by loss of mangrove habitat and human intrusion, including harvesting them for their hides. I certainly enjoyed seeing these specimens and hope generations to come have the same privilege.