The Dwarf crocodile is a rather small crocodile with short, blunt muzzle and black body except with the under parts, which are yellow in color. The body is covered by bony plates, which form coarse, armored scales on the skin of the animal. These scales protect the crocodile from injury as well as from getting burnt, lying under the hot sun. When the crocodile is submerged, its eyes and nostrils remain above the water surface, allowing the animal to see and breathe. This also helps the crocodile be unspotted while watching for prey and predators. Young crocodiles are identified by yellowish markings on their head and light brown stripes on their body and tail.
The Dwarf crocodile is an African reptile. The area of its distribution stretches from sub-Saharan regions to west-central Africa, from southern Senegal to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, reaching as south as northern Angola. The primary habitat of the Dwarf crocodile is rainforest. The reptile occurs in tropical lowland regions, where the animal inhabits swamps with dense vegetation, slow flowing currents and rivers. In addition, the Dwarf crocodiles are sometimes found in savannah pools.
This reptile is a nocturnal animal. The Dwarf crocodile is solitary hunter, preying at night on small animals either in water or on the river banks. The crocodiles spend the daytime hours resting in burrows, which are usually placed along the river bank, dug into the ground, having long, several meters long entrance and exit tunnels. When it's hard to find a suitable burrowing site, the crocodiles live among immersed tree roots, hanging into the water. Being cold-blooded animal, the crocodile has to constantly maintain its body temperature. When the temperature is low, the reptile takes sunbaths in order to warm up. To cool down during the heat, the animal enters the water. The crocodiles tend to lay an ambush, when in water: their body is submerged, while the eyes and nostrils are above the surface, due to which the reptile is able to hide from predators and make a surprise attack, when prey appears.
These reptiles are carnivorous, typically hunting birds, frogs, toad, rats, fish, crustaceans and other small animals. In addition, when the food is scarce, the animals can occasionally consume carrion.
The Dwarf crocodiles are polygynous animals. Usually, a male crocodile mates with females, occupying his territory. They breed from May to June. The female is responsible for constructing the nest: she builds a mound out of decaying vegetation, laying up to 20 eggs. During the following 3 months, the vegetation rots, producing heat, which helps incubate the eggs. The female keeps an eye on the eggs, protecting them from predators. Then, as she hears the call of her offspring, the mother unearths the eggs, helping the hatchlings come out. After the young hatch out, the female gently and carefully picks them up in her mouth, introducing them to the water. The Dwarf crocodiles usually reach independence quite quickly, but tend to remain nearby their mother for the first few weeks of their lives, sometimes even longer. Sexual maturity is reached at 5-6 years old.
In some areas of their natural range, the animals are threatened by local people, who hunt the crocodiles for their meat. On the other hand, increased human activity throughout the area of their natural habitat is another serious concern to the population of these reptiles. The Dwarf crocodiles are threatened by the development of human settlements within their home range. They are exposed to alteration and loss of habitat due to forest clearance for the timber industry as well as invasion of agricultural plantations such as palm oil. In addition, the clearance of their rainforest habitat in order to produce grazing areas for livestock, has sharply decreased the area of their distribution, particularly because these animals are not welcome by farmers, who fear for their livestock.
The overall population of this species in the wild varies from 25,000 to 100,000 individuals. On the IUCN Red List, the Dwarf crocodile is classified as a Vulnerable species within its habitat.