Mexican crocodile, Belize crocodile, Central American crocodile, Soft Belly crocodile, Alligator, an Agarei, Brown crocodile, Swamp crocodile or in Spanish "Cocodrilo de Pantano"
The Morelet’s crocodile is a crocodilian of modest size found only in the fresh Atlantic waters in the regions of Mexico, Guatemala and Belize. It was Morelet, the French naturalist, who discovered this new crocodile species in the mid-nineteenth century, and its scientific name come from him. This species has a similar color to that of the American crocodile, but the Morelet’s crocodile is a bit darker, having a dark grayish-brown with darker spots and bands on the body and tail. The juveniles are bright yellow with black bands. These crocodiles do not have ventral osteoderms - bony plates that are under the skin - and therefore their skin is highly valuable for tanning. Their powerful legs have clawed and webbed feet. Their tail is also powerful, and they swim using strong thrusts.
Morelet's crocodiles live on the eastern coastal plain in Mexico, and on most parts of the Yucatan peninsula, as well as throughout northern Guatemala and Belize. They live mostly in freshwater areas like swamps, marshes and forested riparian habitats. Recently, these crocodiles have even been seen in coastal brackish water. The juveniles prefer the protection of denser cover, and adults typically aestivate during the dry season in burrows.
Habits and lifestyle
A Morelet's crocodile is typically shy and timid, though the bigger ones can be considered a danger to humans. This species prefers an aquatic lifestyle, but is also able to travel on land, despite this being more difficult than in the water. Morelet's crocodiles can often be seen in wetlands submerged just below the water’s surface with only the top of their heads to be seen. They are primarily active at night, when they carry out hunting and mating. They spend the day basking in the sun, at the same time being alert and very aware of what is going on around them. Juveniles will communicate through vocalization (described as barking) when born. Not much information is available about specific social communication. This species tends to follow the basic behavior patterns of all crocodiles, the most vocal of the reptiles, and their calls differ according to age, sex and the situation.
bask, congregation, float, nest
Diet and nutrition
Morelet's crocodiles are carnivores and have a different diet according to their size and age. Juveniles eat fish and small invertebrates. Sub-adults eat aquatic snails, fish, mammals and small birds. Adults feed on bigger prey, including birds, fish, turtles, lizards, and domestic animals like dogs. In times of low food they can become cannibalistic, eating newborns.
Little is known about the mating habits of Morelet’s crocodiles, although, like all crocodiles, they might be polygynous. This means that one male mates with more than one female during the breeding season. Large males probably dominate over the others in their area, with females preferring to mate with dominant males. Breeding is usually between April and June, with eggs laid before the rainy season begins. Among North American crocodiles, Morelet's crocodiles are unique in that they only build mound nests, not both mound and hole nests. Their nests are around 1 m (3.3 ft) high and 3 m (9.8 ft) wide, built near water or on vegetation that is floating. A female lays 20 - 45 eggs. Nests containing eggs laid by more than one female have been found. The females bury the eggs and guard the nests. The incubation period is about 80 days. The female carries her hatchlings to the water, where both parents protect them until they are ready to fend for themselves. The parents will also defend hatchlings fiercely against predators and larger juveniles. Morelet’s crocodiles reach maturity at 7-8 years of age.
During the 1940s and 1950s this species was hunted almost to extinction for its valuable hide. Since then it has become illegal to hunt them and populations have steadily recovered. Current threats are from illegal poaching and habitat loss.
According to the Aquatic Community resource, the total population size of the Morelet’s crocodile is around 10,000-20,000 individuals. According to the IUCN Red List, between 79,000 and 100,000 individuals occur in Mexico. Overall, currently Morelet’s crocodiles are classified as least concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List and their numbers today remain stable.
Fun facts for kids
- Morelet’s crocodile is named for P.M.A. Morelet (1809-1892), the French naturalist who in 1850 described this species in Mexico.
- The scales that cover most of the crocodile’s head and body have integumentary sense organs that carry out a number of tasks, including detecting salinity pressure and vibrations.
- Crocodiles often sit on river banks with their mouth wide open. This is not an aggressive pose, but a means to cool off, as they sweat through their mouth.
- A crocodile has a four-chambered heart, such as birds (their closest relatives) have, and mammals, which enables an active life. Yet, when they dive, their heart acts like the three-chambered heart of a reptile, enabling them to stay underwater for longer.
- At night if you turn a light towards waters populated by crocodiles, pairs of red dots will shine back at you. Crocodiles' eyes have a layer behind the retina called tapetum, which contains crystals that reflect light, make night vision possible.