Maybe it's their ferocious nature or smiling jaws, or maybe its how they look so much like dinosaurs, but whatever the reason, kids have long been fascinated by crocodiles. Parents and teachers can use this interest as a golden opportunity to explore fun facts about nature and science with them that will potentially plant the seeds for a lifelong love of exploring and learning more about what interests them.
Crocodiles vs. Alligators
Crocodiles and alligators are actually two different types of animal with many distinctions between them. The easiest way to distinguish between them is looking at their jaws. Alligators have wide, shovel-shaped snouts shaped like a "U," and crocodiles have thinner, narrower ones shaped like a "V." Crocodiles' upper jaws are the same width, leaving their teeth to stick out on the sides of their mouths, but alligators' upper jaw is wider than their lower, making their teeth less visible.
While Nile crocodiles look frightening, they are actually good parents. A mother lays anywhere from 25 to 80 eggs at once, then guards them for three months while the father chases off predators. Once hatched, the mother carefully picks up the foot-long young in her mouth and escorts them to water. The young live under their mothers' protection for up to two years, eating small insects, and grow almost a foot every year. Most other reptiles just abandon their eggs.
As reptiles, crocodiles are cold blooded, meaning their body temperature and energy level depend on the weather. Crocodiles control their temperature by laying in the sun during the day, then cooling off with either a quick swim or retreat to the shade at midday. They spend most of the night underwater.
With eyes and nostrils on top of their heads so they can see and smell prey while partially submerged, and powerful swimming muscles, crocodiles are perfectly adapted for hunting in water. A saltwater crocodile, the largest reptile on earth, floats for hours waiting for an animal to come take a drink from the water it's hiding in. When one comes, it ducks beneath the surface, crawls towards it, then leaps out of the water and attacks, clenching it in is powerful jaws and bringing it underwater to drown.