Alligators and crocodiles are two kinds of large aquatic (water based) reptiles.
In taxonomic ranking – or how species are differentiated and named – both are in the order Crocodilia but separated under the families of Crocodylidae and Alligatoridae. (The seven main ranks are kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species. The lower you go, the more specific it is to one living thing. That means that crocodiles and alligators are closely related.
How to tell them apart.
Visually, the easiest way to tell the difference between a crocodile and an alligator is the snout.
Crocodiles have pointier, V-shaped snout, with visible teeth along the side of their mouth pointing up and down when the jaw is closed. Alligators have a wider, U-shaped snout, with any visible teeth pointing down when the jaw is closed. Crocodiles are also typically lighter in colour, while adult alligators are a dark black, grey, or green.
But which one is more dangerous?
You should probably be a bit more concerned with coming across a crocodile, for reasons involving both geography and personality.
Firstly, crocodiles can be found in many warm habitats across the globe, and many species aren’t limited by the constraints of fresh vs salt water. Secondly, they’re notorious for attacking humans.
Saltwater Crocodiles, for instance, aren’t just the world’s largest living reptiles, they’re one of the most aggressive predators on the planet. They’re known for being able to travel long distances at sea, and attacking big animals like water buffalo, cattle, and anything else that gets too close.
Saltwater Crocodiles aren’t the only ones to worry about, though! A Nile Crocodile named Gustave has allegedly killed over 300 people in the East African country of Burundi.
Of course, there are a number of smaller, relatively harmless crocodiles who are more likely to be preyed upon by a large Saltwater Crocodiles than ever be dangerous to a human!
So am I safe around alligators?
While alligators can also be very aggressive, they’re more likely to be picky with their food.
More importantly, there are only two living species of alligator: The American Alligator, which only lives in the Southeast of the United States. The Chinese Alligator, which in addition to being critically endangered, is much smaller and doesn’t attack people.
That being said, the American Alligator is responsible for many attacks on humans, largely because their habitat is almost always close to people populated areas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature reports that there about five attacks by American alligators in the southern US state of Florida every year.
However, the IUCN also reports that only 6% of attacks are fatal. Compared to 63% for the Nile crocodile and 25-50% for the Saltwater crocodile, the American alligator isn’t nearly as prolific a killer.
Ok, so got all that?
There are plenty of other scientific differences between crocodiles and alligators, but this should be enough to get you by in a pinch!