June 13 – How Doth The Little Crocodile

Today’s factismal: Nile crocodiles have been spotted in the Everglades.

When Alice  was In Wonderland, she recited a poem about the Nile crocodile:

How doth the little crocodile
Improve his shining tail
And pour the waters of the Nile
On every golden scale!

How cheerfully he seems to grin
How neatly spreads his claws
And welcomes little fishes in
With gently smiling jaws!

A crocodile waiting for the little fishes (My camera)

A crocodile waiting for the little fishes
(My camera)

The poem was a gentle satire on Victorian “children’s poetry” that described a creature that most children in Victorian England would never see, the Nile crocodile. This walking handbag is one of nature’s most perfect predators. Lurking just under the water, it waits until a wildebeest or tourist wanders too close and then – SNAP! – lunges up with jaws agape to bite, twist, kill, and eat its victim. Fortunately, until recently, this fearsome beast has lived in the southern part of Africa and been no trouble to the rest of the world. Until recently.

An American alligator waiting for its prey (My camera)

An American alligator waiting for its prey
(My camera)

In the past few years, Nile crocodiles have been seen in the Florida Everglades. Three different Nile crocodiles have been captured there, indicating that there may be many, many more. And that’s bad. That’s bad because in the absence of things that prey on it, the Nile crocodile can easily take over the area, driving out (or eating) the resident predators and devastating the resident prey. What are the resident predators? In the Everglades, there are two critters that fill the niche that the Nile crocodile is attempting to usurp: the American alligator and the American crocodile.

A baby American alligator. Cute little nipper, isn't he? (My camera)

A baby American alligator. Cute little nipper, isn’t he?
(My camera)

The American alligator is well-known to people who visit zoos. Large and lazy, these beasts are an important part of the wetland system thanks to the holes that they dig and the prey that they eat. These lumbering behemoths can reach15 ft long and 1,000 lbs heavy; they range from the tip of Texas to the edge of North Carolina, with stops in the swamps of Florida and Louisiana (where they are often called “Cajun yard dogs”). And the American alligator is notable for another reason, too. In 1967, the species had been hunted to near-extinction and was placed on the endangered species list. Thanks to the efforts of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, it recovered quickly and was removed from the list in 1983. Today, it is considered to be a species of least concern.

An American Crocodile with gently spread jaws (Image courtesy USFWS)

An American Crocodile with gently spread jaws
(Image courtesy USFWS)

Less well-known is the American crocodile. Smaller and more sensitive to colder temperatures than its big cousin, the American crocodile is confined in the US to the tip of Florida and Puerto Rico (though some people have reported seeing it in Louisiana); it can also be found on the Pacific coast of Mexico and throughout the northern coast of South America. Unlike the freshwater-loving American alligator, the American crocodile prefers brackish water and does best in estuaries and small ponds near the sea. And thanks to rising seawaters and shrinking estuaries, not to mention invasions by Nile crocodiles and Burmese pythons, the American crocodile is becoming a threatened species.

If you’d like to help spot invasive species and keep the American crocodile off of the Endangered Species list then why not join the Introduced Reptile Early Detection and Documentation program? The swamp you save may be your own!


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