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Crocodile vs Caiman: 10 Important Differences Explained

Both crocs and caimans belong to the same order, but they are different species. There are many variants of crocodiles and caimans, and all of these are variants of the order Crocodilia. Although they look similar, they are separate species. 

A Caiman Head
Caimans and crocodiles both belong to the order Crocodilia.

Crocodiles are the true crocodiles. Caimans belong to the sub-family Caimaninae, which is under the family Alligatoridae.

Crocodile vs Caiman Characteristics

FeatureCrocodileCaiman
1. Scientific NameCrocodylidaeCaimaninae
2. SizeHuge, up to 20 feet or more19 feet or less
3. ColorsBlack, green, brownSpeckled, greenish, brownish, and also gray
4. RangeWorldwideCentral and South America
5. Hunting BehaviorPredatoryPredatory
6. Lays EggsYesYes
7. Pet BehaviorCannot be a petCannot be a pet
8. Venomous | ToxicityNo, but it is a dangerous predatorNo, but it is a dangerous predator
9. Life ExpectancyAs long as 80 years, some longerAbout 40 years
10. DietVertebrates like fish and mammalsMostly fish, but they also eat mammals

Crocodile Overview

The true crocodile belongs to the family Crocodylidae. It has several species, some of which are already endangered. They are not alligators, and they are not gharials.

Crocodiles are more difficult to differentiate from alligators, but they have a V-shaped snout. Also, a crocodile has a different jaw which makes its teeth visible even if the mouth is closed. 

There are many species of crocodiles, and they have different behaviors, sizes, and habitats. Some live in freshwater, but some live in brackish water.  

All of them are carnivorous, but their diets vary according to their environment. Most of the time, they feed on fish and vertebrates as they are faster in the water than they are on land.

Crocodiles are sensitive to cold and will die in freezing temperatures. Today, there are 18 extant species of crocodiles, and several of them are critically endangered.

Saltwater Croc
Crocodiles are much larger than caiman

Caiman Overview

The caiman is an alligatorid, which is like being the cousin of the alligator. Its scientific taxon is Caimaninae, while the alligator is the Alligatorinae. Both of them are from the family of Alligatoridae

The caiman is a freshwater croc, and it lives in marshes and ponds. They are common in Mexico, Central, and South America.

Compared with crocodiles, caimans are small. They weigh only up to 88 pounds or 40 kilograms. They are also short, and the average is 13 feet. Some, of course, can grow larger than this, and some specimens are 19 feet in length. 

They live in slow-moving bodies of water, and there are six different species of caimans. Some are too small that they only grow to 4.9 feet long. This particular species is the Cuvier’s dwarf caiman. 

Caimans are nocturnal, and like their cousins, they are predatory. They eat mainly fish, but they also eat insects, birds, and mammals. 

Caiman in shallow water
Caiman are smaller than crocodiles, but otherwise share a similar appearance

Crocodile vs Caiman Differences

1. Appearance

Crocodiles have large, broad bodies and short legs. They are huge and can grow over 20 feet in length.

Most of the big crocs captured are kept in captivity, and zoos keep them for people to see. Crocodiles have thick and leathery skin. Their scales, called scutes, are bony. They have sharp and pointed teeth. 

Caimans are small, and they also have hard scales that protect them. They are primarily olive green, but some are gray, brown, or black. Sometimes, they have spots or speckles, which help them hide. Caimans have a narrow snout. They also have bony ridges above their eyes. 

2. Habitat

Crocodiles are found all over the world. They mainly thrive in freshwater environments, but some species live in brackish waters, where freshwater and saltwater meet. Some crocodiles even travel in the sea

Caimans live in marshes, lakes, ponds, and rivers. They only live in freshwater areas and do not travel in the sea. Caimans are mostly located in Central and South America.

Saltwater Crocodile
Crocodiles can live in saltwater or freshwater habitats, whereas caiman are limited to freshwater only

3. Aggression

Both crocodiles and caimans are aggressive if threatened. Between the two, the crocodile is a more aggressive hunter. It lurks underwater and snatches prey to drown it. 

As far as humans go, the crocodile is more aggressive. Alligators, on the other hand, fear humans and would not want to have anything to do with them. There are species of caimans that are also aggressive towards humans, like the spectacled and the black caiman. 

Since caimans are small, they rarely cause serious injuries. Crocodiles, however, are known to have eaten human beings. 

4. Diet

Crocodiles would eat anything. They eat fish, insects, frogs, lizards, and also crustaceans. As adults, they prey on bigger mammals. It is not uncommon to see crocodiles snatching big cats, zebras, and wildebeests in Africa. 

Caimans are like crocodiles. They would eat anything. However, their small size prevents them from hunting big mammals. The caiman typically eats small fish and invertebrates like crustaceans.

Large crocodile
Owing to their larger size, crocodiles can take on larger prey than caiman

5. Hunting Behavior

Both Crocodiles and Caimans are amphibious predatory hunters and are capable of taking down prey several times their own size in land or in water.

The fastest crocs can run at up to 22mph (35km/h) over land, and can submerge themselves to ambush land animals by the water’s edge.

6. Eggs

Both Crocodiles and Caimans are reptiles, which means that they lay leathery white eggs, though crocodile eggs are usually larger.

Crocodile eggs are around 3 inches long, while caiman eggs are around 2 inches long, depending on the species.

Read More: What are Crocodile Eggs Like?

Crocodile eggs
Crocodile and caiman eggs are soft and leathery, like most reptiles

7. Domestication

Neither crocodiles nor caiman are suitable for domestication. The Worldwide Crocodilian Attack Database confirms that there have been multiple fatal attacks on humans by both crocodiles and caimans.

Although these animals are not suitable for domestication, they are common in zoos and wildlife sanctuaries around the world.

8. Venomosity

Similar to Komodo Dragons, crocodile and caiman mouths are often teeming with dangerous bacteria. Neither crocodiles nor caiman are venomous, however, even a minor bite could cause a potentially fatal infection.

In 2020, a crocodile attack in Indonesia resulted in a fatal infection, even though the bite itself was not fatal.

Crocodile showing its teeth
Although they aren’t venomous, crocodiles and caiman have potentially deadly bites

9. Life Expectancy

Crocodiles live much longer than caiman on average, with the oldest crocodiles living for over 80 years, compared to around 40 years for caiman.

The oldest currently living crocodile is a 121 year old crocodile called Henry, who resides at CrocWorld Crocodile Sanctuary in South Africa.

During his time at CrocWorld, Henry has fathered over 10,000 offspring.

10. Diet

Caiman and Crocodiles share a similar carnivorous diet, but crocodiles have the ability to eat larger prey due to their size.

Caiman feed mostly on fish and other aquatic creatures, whereas crocodiles feed on both fish and terrestrial mammals such as boar, wildebeest, and antelope.

Summary: Crocodile VS Caiman

Caimans and Crocodiles belong to the same order, but they are distinct. The way one must approach this difference is like monkeys or apes. While all of them are primates, they have differences. As such, a gorilla is different from a chimpanzee.

Caimans are the cousins of alligators, as both of them belong to the Alligatoridae family. Crocodiles are distant relatives. Both of them are predators and carnivores. The crocodile, however, has species that live in saltwater, while caimans live in freshwater only.

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