Saltwater Crocodile vs Alligator: How Are They Different?

Saltwater crocodiles are true crocodiles, while alligators are a species within the crocodilian family. Both of these are reptiles, and they evolved from the same ancestors.

To understand their relationship, one must think of big cats like lions and tigers—the same big cats but different species.

Alligators, generally speaking, are smaller than crocodiles. The saltwater crocodile is the largest species of crocodiles in the world, and they will certainly defeat an alligator in face-to-face combat.

Saltwater Crocodile vs Alligator

Getting to Know the Saltwater Crocodile

The saltwater crocodile, commonly referred to as the “saltie,” is native to brackish habitats in Australia and Southeast Asia. It is one of the few crocodile species that pose a serious threat to human beings.

In Queensland, people discovered fossils of the saltwater crocodile, which date back to the Pliocene period. Currently, the closest living relative of the saltie is the Siamese and the mugger crocodiles.

Evidence suggests that the saltie diverged from another animal, the Voay of Madagascar, as far back as 25 million years ago.

The Voay is an extinct crocodile with only one species. This species is the V. robustus. There are many fossils found with complete skulls, and these ancient crocodiles had small horns at the base of their heads.

Scientists suggest that they have disappeared with the dinosaurs in the extinction event of the Holocene. This extinction event was driven by human beings.

Saltwater Crocodile Characteristics

The saltwater crocodile has a wide snout, even if compared to other true crocodiles. As a croc, its snout has a V shape. Alligators, on the other hand, have a U-shaped snout.

A saltie also has longer snouts than most other crocs. Its body is also broad compared to other crocs, and it is why many people thought that the saltie was an alligator.

As far as the color is concerned, the saltie is pale yellow when young. It has black stripes and spots. Once it matures, the color changes to dark green.

An adult saltie is huge, and it can grow up to 20 feet or six meters. This croc can weigh as much as 2,200 pounds. The average length of a male is 16 feet.

Alligators are smaller compared to the saltwater croc. An alligator typically grows up to 15 feet and weight 1,000 pounds.

Related Article: What attracts alligators and crocodiles?

Where do salties live?

Saltwater crocodiles live in brackish waters. However, it can also survive in freshwaters. As far as geography goes, saltie is fairly spread around the world.

Here are some countries where the salties thrive:

  • India
  • Sri Lanka
  • Philippines
  • Australia
  • Papua New Guinea
  • Vietnam
  • Cambodia
  • Thailand

Salties do not just live in brackish waters, as they also have a presence in mangroves, swamps, and river deltas. These crocodiles are adventurous, and they have even been spotted in the sea.

Alligators are not as widespread. There are only two true alligator species in the world today—the Chinese and the American alligators.

As their name suggests, both gators live in these specific countries only. As such, there is no American alligator in China and vice versa.

Saltwater Crocodile Diet

Saltwater crocodiles eat anything. They are opportunistic predators that use the wait-and-ambush technique to hunt prey. Given their size, a successful bite from this croc means there is no escape.

Saltwater crocodiles have a wide variety of food, and below are some examples:

  • Water buffalo
  • Wild boar
  • Sharks
  • Fish
  • Frogs

The juvenile saltwater crocodile eats insects and crustaceans. As the saltie grows, it takes on much heavier prey. This crocodile also eats snakes and lizards.

The saltwater crocodile is a fearless predator that it even hunts humans. The two crocodiles most responsible for human attacks are the Nile crocodile and the saltie.

Alligators are also opportunistic feeders. But since the gators live in a different environment, they eat other things like turtles. Alligators do not hunt humans for food. Instead, gators are afraid of humans and will stay away from people.

Like the saltwater crocodile, the alligator also uses the wait-and-ambush strategy when hunting. The main difference is that alligators only hunt animals smaller than them. They also attack humans from time to time, but only if the human is small or weak.

Are saltwater crocodiles endangered?

No, the saltwater crocodile is not endangered. Its current conservation status is Least Concern. It has been this way since 1996. For many years, people hunted down the saltie for its skin. It was in the 1970s that governments decided to do something.

The estimated global population of the saltwater crocodile is 200,000. In Australia, studies show that the population has increased by 2.2 percent since 2018. From around 5,000 crocs in 1974, the numbers are now up to 30,000 in Australia.

What does Least Concern mean? It means that there are many individuals for the species to thrive. Since they are plentiful, humans do not focus too much on their conservation.

Like the saltie, the American alligator is under the least concern status. There are many alligators in the United States. The estimate is that there are five million alligators in the US.

The Chinese alligator, however, is a different story. It is critically endangered. Today, there are only 150 Chinese alligators in the wild. They live in fragmented populations, and no group has more than 20 individuals in them.

Experts believe that the chines gator is a good candidate for reintegration. It means the gators can be released into the wild. It is a good idea because only a few gators are left in the wild. Many conservationists are breeding these gators in captivity.

Right now, there are 20,000 Chinese alligators in captivity. The breeding program started back in 1970. The largest group of captive-bred gators releasedin the wild was 17 specimens, and this happened back in 2016.


The saltwater crocodile is a true crocodile, while the alligator is a species from the same family. Both came from the same evolutionary ancestor. Saltwater crocodiles are bigger than alligatorsand are more territorial and ferocious. Salties attack humans, while gators stay away from human interaction. Salties are found worldwide, while alligators are native only to China and the USA.

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