CROCODILIANS Family Crocodylidae
Crocodiles, alligators, caimans and relatives

I am fascinated by Crocodilians -- one of the world's most ancient vertebrate families -- but at a safe distance. Fortunately, telephoto lens help close the distance. I've only photographed three species adequately, two in Florida and one in Africa, and a gallery of these photos is presented here. Unlike birds, I am just casually interested in these reptiles -- enjoying them immensely but not feeling compelled to know that much about them. A January 1978 National Geographic article [R. Gore, photos by J. Blair, "A bad time to be a crocodile"] illustrates 21 crocodilian species worldwide, many of them endangered. Possibly that information is generally in the ballpark. All photos © Don Roberson; all rights reserved.


The American Alligator Alligator mississipiensis is resident along the Gulf Coast of North America. Once hunted to threatened status, it has come back well with protection and is now easily found from Texas to Florida. All these photos were taken in Jan 1999 in Everglades National Park, Florida. I've never seen an alligator as far out of the water as the adult which walked by me (much too close!; middle left). I pictured it as a female heading off to her nest; I'm told they can move quite fast if need be. One truly feels prehistory when watching alligators.
    The baby alligator (bottom right) was floating along Anhinga Trail where I photographed it from a boardwalk. It is rare to see different sized alligators in the same spot since big ones will eat little ones.


The American Crocodile Crocodylus acutus is now an endangered species, ranging around the Caribbean to southern Florida, in the Greater Antilles, and Colombia & Ecuador. It is essentially restricted to saltwater near shore -- estuaries and mangroves. Only a few hundred remain in Florida, and I was absolutely delighted to find the large one and the small one sunning on a boat launching ramp at Flamingo, Everglades National Park, in Jan 1999. It is so rare I always assumed it would take a dedicated search over many days to find the American Crocodile.

Easy separating points between the Crocodile (here) and the Alligator (prior set) include the visible teeth extending from both jaws on the crocodile (only from the upper jaw in the alligator); the paler greenish-gray color with big blotches (compared to darker blackish when wet color of alligator, which lacks the blotches); the much narrower and longer snout of the 'croc; and the less upturned "smile line" of the crocodile.


The Nile Crocodile Crocodylus niloticus is common along the large rivers and in the lakes of Africa. It is a major reason to avoid swimming in Africa. They can be amazingly fast, but most of the time one sees them just lazing on a log or sandbank, like the beast at lower left in Kruger Nat'l Park, South Africa (July 1996). Sometimes they seem to doze with their jaws agape, as the one lower right along the Uaso Nyiro River in Samburu Nat'l Park, northern Kenya (Nov 1981). Indeed, at nearby Samburu Lodge, Nile Crocodiles would routinely come to eat at the "crocodile bar" just below an outdoor patio where the staff tossed-out leftovers from dinner. The upper croc is enjoying such a meal within a few feet of where we were enjoying our Tusker Premium beers in Nov 1981.

Although early African explorers saw awe-inspiring sights of huge aggregations of the monster reptiles, Nile Crocodiles have been persecuted throughout Africa and now exist in numbers only in reserves; I understand that the aggregations in Murchison Falls Nat'l Park, Uganda, can still be impressive. There is a great PBS film -- "Last Feast of the Crocodiles," I think it's called -- about the effect of drought on Nile Crocodile life along the Luvuvhu River in South Africa. It has spectacular footage of both crocs and many of the local birds and mammals.