The American Crocodile is a species of crocodilian found in the Neotropics. It is the most widespread of the four extant species of crocodiles from the Americas. Populations occur from the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of southern Mexico to South America as far as Peru and Venezuela. It also lives within many river systems on Cuba, Jamaica, and Hispaniola. Within the United States of America, the American crocodile's habitat is limited to the southern half of Florida, and has an estimated population of 2,000. The habitat of the American crocodile consists largely of coastal areas. It is larger than some other crocodile species, with some males reaching lengths of 6.1 meters (20 ft) in Central America and South America.
Like all crocodilians, the American crocodile is a quadruped, with four short, splayed legs, a long, powerful tail and a scaly hide with rows of ossified scutes running down its back and tail. Its snout is elongated and includes a strong pair of jaws. Its eyes have nictitating membranes for protection along with lachrymal glands, which produce tears.
The nostrils, eyes, and ears are situated on the top of its head, so the rest of the body can be concealed underwater for surprise attacks. Camouflage also helps them prey on food. The snout is relatively longer and narrower than that of the American alligator, although broader on average than that of the Orinoco crocodile. American crocodiles are also paler and more grayish than the relatively dark-hued alligator. This crocodile species normally crawls on its belly, but it can also "high walk". Larger specimens can charge up to 10 miles per hour (16 km/h). They can swim at as much as 20 miles per hour (32 km/h) by moving their bodies and tails in a sinuous fashion, but they cannot sustain this speed.
American crocodiles are more susceptible to cold than American alligators. While an American alligator can survive in water of 7.2 °C (45.0 °F) for some time, an American crocodile in that environment would become helpless and drown. American crocodiles, however, have a faster growth rate than alligators, and are much more tolerant of salt water.
American crocodiles' primary prey throughout life is fish; the relatively narrow snout is indicative of this piscivorous preference. Virtually any fish found in freshwater through coastal salt water habitats is potential prey. In Florida, bass, tarpon and especially mullet appeared to be the primary prey. The snout of the American crocodile is broader than some specialized fish-eating crocodilians (i.e. gharials,freshwater crocodile, etc.), allowing it to supplement its diet with a wider variety of prey. Prey species have ranged in size from the insects taken by young crocodiles to full-grown cattle taken by large adults, and can include various birds, mammals, turtles, crabs,snails, frogs, and occasionally carrion. Adult American crocodiles have no natural predators and almost any terrestrial or riparian animal they encounter is potential prey. Reportedly, these crocodiles hunt primarily in the first few hours after nightfall, especially on moonless nights, although they will feed at any time.
C. acutus is the most widespread of the four extant species of crocodiles from the Americas. It inhabits waters such as mangrove swamps, river mouths, fresh waters, and salt lakes, and can even be found at sea (hence its wide distribution on the Caribbean Islands, southern Florida, the Greater Antilles and southern Mexico to Colombia and Ecuador. The American crocodile is especially plentiful in Costa Rica. One of its largest documented populations is in Lago Enriquillo, a hypersaline lake in the Dominican Republic. The species has also been recorded from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago.
American crocodiles, unlike American alligators, are extremely susceptible to cold temperatures and live exclusively within tropical waters. During 2009, unusually cold weather in southern Florida resulted in the deaths of about 150 wild American crocodiles, including a well-known crocodile which inhabited Sanibel Island far north of their natural range.