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What Colors are Alligators and Crocodiles?

Alligators have a darker color than crocodiles. Most of the time, alligators are blackish-grey. Crocodiles, on the other hand, are light-colored. Crocodiles are typically olive green or brown (tan).

Brown and tan alligator
Alligators are usually darker than crocodiles, but the markings and coloration vary greatly between species

The color between these two cold-blooded reptiles varies because of their environment. A study shows that crocodylians modify their skin color in response to the changing light and also because of environmental conditions. 

What Colors are Alligators?

The most common is dark grey. However, the color varies according to the species and the environment. Some alligators share the same color as crocodiles

Here are the possible colors of alligators: 

  • Olive
  • Gray
  • Dark grey to black
  • Green 
  • Tan

The underside of an alligator is creamy. Baby alligators have stripes on their bodies. Those that live in waters that have lots of algae will eventually become green or olive. 

On the other hand, those that live in areas where there are lots of trees can eventually become brown. The tan comes from the tannins of the wood that penetrate the water. 

Dark colored alligator
Alligators tend to be darker than crocodiles, as they live in dark freshwater rivers

What Color are Crocodiles?

Crocodiles are often tan or brown, matching the color of their environments to help disguise themselves from potential prey.

As the largest living reptile, the saltwater crocodile is pale yellow with black stripes as a baby. As an adult, it turns into a dark green. It lives in brackish and marine waters and sometimes in rivers. 

The Siamese crocodile is also green. The variations are olive green ad dark green. It is critically endangered, and some surmise that it is already extinct in the wild.

Are Alligators or Crocodiles Green?

Both alligators and crocodiles can be green, depending on where they live. Typically, alligators and crocodiles are shades of green or brown, depending on their environments and the exact species.

There are more than 20 types of crocodile, and each one has slightly different markings and coloration.

Can Crocodiles Change Their Skin Color?

In 1985 it was discovered that crocodilians could alter their skin color to match their surrounding environments. At that time, it was observed that the saltwater crocodiles developed both dark and light colors when raised in dark or light tanks respectively.

The color change took effect in as short as three months. The same lab samples changed colors when they were swapped in the other tank. The dark ones became light when placed in light tanks. 

The key finding in this study is that the crocodiles do this to survive. In the wild, baby crocodiles die of predation. Only a small percentage of baby crocodiles survive in the wild. According to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the survival rate of crocodiles is only 10%.  

Since crocodiles aren’t mammals, they don’t have any fur on their skin.

Saltwater Croc
Crocodiles’ colors vary according to their environments

Distinguishing Alligators and Crocodiles without Relying on Color

Since the color of alligators and crocodiles may be the same, you can use the snout shape, jaw shape, and size of the animals to tell them apart.

Here are some guidelines: 

  • Snout – the alligator’s snout is like a letter U. It is wide and well-rounded, while crocodiles have tight and pointed snouts. In addition, the crocodile’s snout is shaped like a V. Because of this, the alligator can snap preys that have a shell, like turtles.  
  • Jawline – the alligator has a wide upper jaw. When it closes its snout or mouth, the teeth are hidden inside. Crocodiles cannot do this because their upper and lower jaws are of the same size. When a crocodile closes its mouth, its teeth are still visible. 
  • Size – crocodiles are bigger than alligators. Alligators can reach up to 15 feet, while crocodiles can reach 17 feet. Crocodiles are also heavier, as they can reach 2,200 pounds. 

Both alligators and crocodiles are swimmers, and they use their tails for swimming underwater. They are also fast swimmers and runners. 

Alligators are found only in the United States and China. Any crocodilian not in these two countries are crocodiles—the true crocodile, not an alligator. 

Alligator Snout
Alligators have more rounded snouts than crocodiles

Summary: What Colors are Alligators and Crocodiles?

Alligators are typically dark grey, almost black. Crocodiles are usually green or brown. The color of both these species can interchange—it all depends on the environment. 

Alligators and crocodiles change their colors, and it is one of their techniques to survive in the wild. As babies, they are vulnerable to predators, and they use the color change to hide themselves.

The key factors that affect their color is the algae and the tannins of trees. Those that live in waters that have green algae will turn green. And those that live in waters with lots of trees may turn tan or brown. 

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