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Morelet's Crocodile Facts and Photos on this Small Crocodile from Central America

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The Morelet’s crocodile, also known as the Central American crocodile, Mexican crocodile, or Belize crocodile, has a very restricted range. It is only known from the Caribbean coasts of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. Its scientific name, Crocodylus moreletii, honors the French naturalist P.M.A. Morelet who first discovered the species in Mexico in 1850.

The Morelet’s crocodile is one of the smaller species of crocodile, normally attaining lengths of up to 3 meters (10 feet), although individuals of over 4 m (14 feet) have been reported. Males can grow larger than females. Morelet’s crocodiles mostly inhabit freshwater ponds, springs, and rivers, but also live in brackish water coastal areas, where their distribution overlaps with that of the larger American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus). The two species sometimes interbreed to produce hybrids.

Morelet’s crocodiles utilize a wide range of prey items, which expands as they grow older and larger. Juveniles feed mostly on snails, insects, and other small invertebrates, while adults also consume fish, reptiles (including turtles and smaller crocodiles), birds, small mammals, and carrion. They generally avoid humans and are not considered particularly dangerous, but larger individuals may attack if provoked, particularly if their young are threatened. Like other crocodiles and alligators, Morelet’s crocodiles often bask with their mouths open, but this gaping is a means of regulating their body temperature, not a threat.

Morelet’s crocodiles, Crocodylus moreletii, are similar in appearance to American crocodiles, Crocodylus acutus, and were confused with both the American and Cuban crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, until 1924 when they were confirmed as a separate species. The snout, in adults, is broader than that of the American crocodile, although not as broad and rounded as the snout of the American alligator, Alligator mississippiensis. Confusingly, residents of the Yucatan region often refer to Morelet’s crocodiles as “alligators.” An obvious distinguishing feature is that in crocodiles the fourth tooth on both sides of the lower jaw protrudes outside the snout when the mouth is closed. (Also, alligators do not occur south of Texas.) Morelet’s crocodiles are a slightly darker shade of gray-brown than American crocodiles, and have darker bands and spots on the body and tail. Morelet’s crocodiles are heavily scaled on the neck, but lack sub-dermal scales or osteoderms on the belly. The absence of bony plates in the belly skin of Morelet’s crocodiles makes the skin particularly valuable and increases the attractiveness of this species to poachers.

Poaching for hides greatly reduced numbers of Morelet’s crocodiles, particularly in the 1940s-1950s. The species was considered endangered, but has rebounded due to better enforcement of wildlife protection laws and to captive breeding and release programs. Morelet’s crocodiles are currently listed by the IUCN as Lower Risk / conservation dependent, and are listed on schedule 1 of the CITES agreement. Hides are now being produced by commercial farming operations in Mexico, but poaching continues to be a problem throughout the region. A greater threat is habitat destruction and increased human visitation to crocodile habitats, both of which are accelerating.

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Picture of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, found in Mexico, Belzie and Guatemala.

Picture #: 124428

Stock photo of a juvenile Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, Lamanai, Orange Walk District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035071

Image of a baby Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, basking on bamboo raft, Cabbage Hole Creek, Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035072

Photo of a baby Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, basking on branch, Cabbage Hole Creek, Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035075

picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile

Stock photo of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii

Picture #: 032152

Stock photo of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, Lamanai, Orange Walk District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035076

Image of a baby Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, gaping, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035077

Photo of a juvenile Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, basking, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035078

picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile

Stock photo of a juvenile Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, Lamanai, Orange Walk District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 036328

Stock photo of a baby Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, basking at water's surface, Cabbage Hole Creek, Stann Creek District, Belize, Central America

Picture #: 035073

Image of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, in cenote, or freshwater spring, near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036351

Photo of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, makes open-mouth threat display toward photographer in cenote, or freshwater spring, near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036329

picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile picture of a Morelets crocodile

Stock photo of a juvenile Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, hides underwater among water lilies, and other vegetation, in cenote or freshwater spring near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036332

Stock photo of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, in cenote, or freshwater spring, near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036354

Image of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, in cenote, or freshwater spring, near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036336

Photo of a Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, rests floating on surface of cenote, or freshwater spring, near Tulum, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Picture #: 036343

 

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