Morelet crocodile in the Chiquibul
The Chiquibul is best known for its macaws but there are a diverse number of other amazing wildlife species. But no need to be afraid – since wild animals are traditionally not aggressive unless you bother or threaten them. This is the morelet crocodile. Due to the dam structure in the Chalillo Lake, this is but one of the species that has been increasing in numbers.
The Morelet’s crocodile, AKA the Mexican crocodile or Cocodrilo de Pantano, is a relatively small crocodilyan species distributed along the eastern coastal plains of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, northern and eastern Guatemala, and Belize. Before they were accepted as a separate species in 1920, the Morelet’s crocodile was often confused with the American crocodile species, especially hybrid individuals as hybridization is a natural phenomenon between the two species.
Morelet’s Crocodile are generally limited to a few areas in the coastal lowlands of Belize. They have been seen at the higher elevations of southern Belize. These often shy and timid crocodiles were once heavily hunted in Belize for its hide; and, their numbers have rebounded after the passing of the Wildlife Protection Act.
The Morelet’s Crocodile preys on aquatic invertebrates, fish, small mammals and birds. Morelet's Crocodiles usually grow to about 3 meters in length – it is the smallest of the two crocodiles species living in Belize.
The Morelet's crocodile inhabits freshwater rivers, swamps, ponds and lakes in forested areas found in Mexico, Belize and Guatemala.
The Morelet's crocodile is a modest size reptile reaching 300 cm in length and can weigh up to 58000 g. It is dark greyish-brown in color with dark spots and bands on the body and tail. Juveniles are brighter yellow in color with black banding. The crocodile has a long tail and short legs which makes it an excellent swimmer. Its iris is silvery brown in color protected by a special and clear eyelid called the nictitating membrane; this gives the crocodile the ability to see underwater.
The Morelet's crocodile prefers to be in the water, but can also travel on land. It is a nocturnal and carnivorous reptile, which feeds on aquatic invertebrates, small mammals, reptiles, fish and birds. Its body scales have sense organs that detect salinity pressure and vibrations when submerged in the water.
Many have seen the crocodile with its mouth wide open and it may seem aggressive but that is how it cools off, as they sweat through their mouth.
Adult Morelet’s crocodiles have similar colors to the American crocodile but the body tends to have a darker-grayish brown with darker bands and spots. An adult male Morelet’s crocodile can reach 3.5m in length, and hatchlings are born between 25-30cm. Nesting season here in Belize is between May and June. The females will build a large mound nest with fresh and decomposing vegetation and lay 20-50 eggs at the end of the dry season. The incubation period lasts 75-85 days; hatching occurs between August and September when the wet season is at its peak.
Before the year 1981, this species was severely depleted by hunting due to the high quality of the skin. After the Wildlife Protection Act was passed in 1981, the population of this species increased and can now be found in most lowland interior rivers and ponds in Belize. In 2020, the IUCN lists the Morelet’s crocodile as ‘least concern’ on their list of endangered species – a testament to the conservation efforts since the 1980s.
Photograph by FCD Belize
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