The Morelet crocodile was discovered in Mexico in 1850 (1) and named after the French naturalist whom made the discovery, P. Morelet (1). It was long confused with the Cuban crocodile and the American crocodile because of similar characteristics shared between species. It was not realized that they were an entirely different species until the 1920s (5). Present day crocodilians come from an ancient lineage comprised of over 125 genera (9).
The Central American crocodile is known as the Morelet’s crocodile or the “Mexican crocodile.” It is small in size compared to other crocodiles. The males can become larger than the females; this is known as sexual dimorphism (5). This crocodile can reach lengths around 10 to 14 feet as adults (6) and is similar to the American and Cuban crocodiles in appearance.
There are features of this species that set it apart and make it easy to identify. It has a very broad snout (5) with 66 to 68 teeth when they are fully matured (1). Crocodiles can be distinguished from alligators because of their teeth in both their upper and lower jaws. Their teeth in both jaws are perfectly aligned (5). The fourth tooth on the bottom jaw of the crocodile is visible when their jaw is closed because it is slightly bigger than the rest of its teeth (5).
The nostrils are located in from of the snout, then directly behind them are the eyes, followed by the ears (5) and all three are on top of the crocodiles head. When almost fully submerged, it still has the capability to smell, hear, and see its surroundings (5). Crocodiles can see under water due to their nictitating membrane which surrounds their eye (5). This is a clear eyelid which can protect the crocodile’s eyes and allow it to see as well (5).
Morelet crocodiles are a dark grayish-brown color (1). They have dark bands and spots on the body and the tail (1). This is similar to other crocodiles like the American crocodile, but the Morelet is somewhat darker (1). Juvenile crocodiles are bright yellow in color with some dark bands (5). The crocodile’s iris is silvery brown in color (1). They have 4 legs along with a long tail which is used for swimming. The hind feet of crocodiles are webbed. Crocodile legs are short so the crocodiles are located very close to the ground. They have very explosive capabilities because of their strong muscles and are fast runners.
Morelet's crocodile can be found in freshwater habitats in Central America (1) and along the Gulf of Mexico stretching through Belize, Guatemala, and to Mexico (1, 9). In their freshwater habitats they prefer isolated areas that are secluded. This species of crocodile can be largely found in freshwater swamps and marshes (1) which are located inland, and in large rivers and lakes (4). Both of these habitats are forested to help add cover (1).
The Morelet can also be found along the coast in brackish waters (5). Brackish waters are areas where the salt water from the ocean mixes along with the freshwater from the inlands (5). In these areas the habitat is slightly different than the freshwater forested swamps inland. They also inhabit the grassy savannas on the Yucatan Peninsula (7). These crocodiles become much more distributed during the rainy seasons when flooding occurs and it is easier for them to move elsewhere (7). Juvenile crocodiles live in very dense cover to protect them from other predators that might be in the area and will remain there until they become older and able to fend for themselves (1). The adult crocodiles are known to dig out burrows during times associated with the dry seasons in their area (1). The range of this crocodile can overlap with the American crocodile, which can sometimes lead to them being confused with one another (5).
This crocodile has a nutritious diet. Crocodiles are carnivorous and eat a large amount of meat. They capture their prey with stealth like techniques, slowing sneaking up on their prey. When a crocodile captures its prey they must first kill it before eating. Crocodiles kill the majority of their prey by grasping them in their muscular jaws and dragging their prey back into the water to drown.
Crocodiles feed largely on fish and insects (4). This is the diet of the majority of the juvenile crocodiles until they become bigger and more capable of bringing down larger prey. Crocodiles will prey on are small mammals, birds, and even other reptiles (6). These small mammals can include domesticated animals like cats and dogs as well as other wild animals (5). Crocodiles have been known to be cannibalistic (5), this includes eating their young.
Breeding usually talks place between April and June (7). A female crocodile can lay between 20 and 45 eggs (1). Nests can be found near the water and the eggs usually hatch after 80 days of incubation (7). The eggs are buried and the nests are guarded by both parents to protect their unborn young from predators (1). Once the eggs have hatched the female crocodile will carry her young to the water and will later leave them to fend for themselves.
The Morelet crocodile has long been threatened by habitat destruction and illegal hunting (3). Both of these factors have significantly lowered their populations. It was hunted for its hide during the 1940s and 1950s (3) because high quality leather can be made from their skins (10). Crocodile leather can be used to make wallets, coats and shoes.
Other than hunting and habitat destruction, the Morelet crocodile has become threatened by other factors. Crocodilian hatchlings are preyed upon by birds (7). Turtles and snakes are also known to eat young hatchlings (7). Raccoons dig up the eggs in the crocodile nests and eat them (7).
The Morelet’s crocodile is an endangered species (7). One of the key protectors of crocodiles today is the CSP, or Crocodile Specialist Group (8), started in 1971 (8). This is a worldwide organization of biologist and other professions coming together to conserve the 23 species of alligators and crocodiles. The CSP monitor all trading of crocodile skins (8). They help determine if the skins are legal or if they were illegally taken. When this organization started all of the crocodilian species were either threatened or endangered (8). Today those numbers have greatly changed.
“By 1996 one third of the crocodilian species were abundant enough to support regulated annual harvests, another third were no longer in danger of extinction, but the final one third of the species still remain endangered (8).”