Croc Out of Water!

As you may have already guessed, crocodilians dwell mainly in freshwater. Nevertheless, truly marine species did exist during the course of this creature’s 200 million year history. Unfortunately, none survived to modern times, but there are at least two species of crocodiles that favor estuarine habitats, and individuals are occasionally sited far out at sea. The American Crocodile, Crocodylus acutus inhabits

This photo was taken at the pond in San Pablo, right in a residential yard.
the coastal areas, rivers, and lakes of southern Florida, as well as several of the Caribbean islands, and parts of Central America and northern South America. However, the Estuarine or Indo-Pacific Crocodile, Crocodylus porosus demonstrates the most striking example of sea migration, distributing itself throughout tropical Asia and the Pacific.

Crocodilians come equipped with aquatic adaptations allowing them to colonize food-rich shallow water along the land’s edge. Their tails are flattened from side to side, and they also have five webbed toes on their front limbs (four on the hind limbs) for swimming. In addition, Crocodilians are also capable divers: a diaphragm-like structure associated with their well-developed lungs assists in effective gas exchange. Plus, a valve at the back of their throat that closes the airway between their nasal passage and lungs, enables them to open their mouth underwater. The crocodile present in Belize, Crocodylus acutus is one of the most adaptable crocodilians in terms of nesting ecology. Throughout most of its range this crocodile is a hole-nesting species. However the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service states that in areas where access to well drained nesting beaches is limited, females will form mound-type nests. Clutch size is typically in the 30–60 range, although in some populations mean clutch size is in the low 20s. As with most hole nesting species, C. acutus nests during the annual dry season with eggs hatching around the beginning of the annual rainy period.

The hostile behavior and fashionable skin of this reptile frequently leads to high extermination rates of Crocodilians. Infact, C. acutus is actually endangered due to commercial overexploitation that occurred from the 1930s into the 1960s. Contributed by Peace Corps Volunteer Nicki Vassak Current threats are habitat destruction and in some areas, continued hunting. According to the United States Fisheries and Wildlife Service, the collection of adult crocodiles to stock farms could become a serious problem in several countries if not closely regulated by the appropriate management authorities. Belize, with Cuba, may be one of the remaining strongholds for the species, although some reduction of available habitat by coastal development is evident in both countries. It is important to secure areas for conservation in these countries, since they appear to have the largest remaining American Crocodile populations with the least potential for human conflict.

Reef Brief is a weekly column published in the San Pedro Sun

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