Saturday, February 19, 2011

Smilin' at a Crocodile

One of my favorite things to do at work is operating the animal positions. We stand in front of one of the animal exhibits and talk to Guests about them. There are several different locations, but my absolute favorite is the American Crocodile.

What's the difference between a crocodile and an alligator? Well, there are a few... One of the major differences is in the shape of their snout. A crocodile will have more of a V-shape at the end of their nose, while an alligator's will be more U-shaped. Also, a crocodile will have a "crocodile smile." You can see their fourth tooth poking out upwards from the bottom of their mouth. An alligator, on the other hand, has a pocket for this tooth in their mouth, and you will only see their teeth pointing downwards. For me, the teeth is the easiest way to tell the difference. 

"All modern alligators and crocodiles are descendants of the
crocodilians - an ancient family of reptiles that flourished in the
Late Cretaceous. Found throughout Central America and the
northern coastal areas of South America, the American Crocodile
preserves many primitive characteristics from that era."
"Range: South Florida, Central America to northern South America"

"The males are capable of growing up to
20 feet. Living in both freshwater and
brackish coastal areas, they feed mostly
on fish and other aquatic animals. Threats
from hunters and habitat destruction pose
a continuing challenge for this species."

Found in Dinoland U.S.A across from the KDC, this 12-foot-long croc is not to be missed. He weighs about 700 pounds, but we're not sure of his exact weight; he's actually too heavy to be weighed right now.

He was rescued when he was young off the coast of Jamaica after a hurricane in the 1960's and named Marley (I believe it was 1969, but I'd have to double check to make sure...). Based off of the time he was found, we can assume that Marley's in his 40's.

During the hot summer months, Marley will eat about 8-15 pounds of meat per week, and when it's cooler, he'll eat less. Their bodies work differently than ours, and crocodiles are very still creatures, so they don't need to eat as often as we do. They are opportunistic hunters and lie in wait until their prey comes along, ready to snap at a moments notice. It also takes a lot of energy to move around 700 pounds of crocodile, so it's more energy efficient for them to remain still.

Another cool thing about crocodiles is that they're cold blooded, which basically means they can't produce their own body heat or sweat like we can. They have to thermoregulate, or control their own body temperatures. In order to do this a crocodile will sometimes open it's mouth, releasing heat. The process works in a similar manner to a dog panting. 

Marley with his mouth open to regulate his temperature
Crocodiles also have small "plates" on their backs, known as osteoderms. They fit together and help form a layer of protection, though the crocodile has no natural predators.
Marley's osteoderms
Despite this, American Crocodile is endangered. Habitat destruction and hunting are the two major threats this amazing animal faces. Florida is one of the only places where you can find both crocodiles and alligators, and it's important that we work to save these creatures worldwide.

One of the ways we can help out is by contributing to Disney's Worldwide Conservation Fund. It's a great program that works to protect endangered animals worldwide. Another great way to help out is to just learn more about them. The more people that know the importance of protecting them, the better!

Be sure to check Marley out the next time you're in Dinoland U.S.A! He's quite a sight, though sometimes chillin' out along the wall, so you might have to look a little bit.

If you have any questions about Marley or crocodiles, I'd love to hear them!

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