Caiman vs Crocodile: Can You Tell the Difference?

Written by August Croft
Published: February 28, 2022
© Audrey Snider-Bell/Shutterstock.com
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When looking at a caiman vs crocodile, you may be wondering how you can tell the difference. While both of these reptiles look strikingly similar, they actually belong to different species, and you can tell this based on their sizes and preferred habitats. But in what other ways do they differ from each other?

In this article, we will address all of the differences between caimans and crocodiles, including their diets, lifespans, and appearance. By the end of this article, you should feel confident in your knowledge of these two carnivores. Let’s get started!

Comparing Caiman vs Crocodile

caiman vs crocodile
Caimans are smaller than crocodiles as a whole, with a U-shaped snout compared to the V-shaped snout of a crocodile.

©A-Z-Animals.com

CaimanCrocodile
GenusCaimaninaeCrocodylus
Size10-600 pounds; 5-19 feet long50-2,000 pounds; 5-25 feet long
AppearanceSmaller than crocodiles; U-shaped snout with overbiteLarger than caimans; V-shaped snout without overbite
Location and HabitatCentral and South America; rivers, lakes, swamps, wetlandsDifferent species found around the world; rivers, lakes, tropical locations
Lifespan20-40 years20-70 years

Key Differences Between Caiman vs Crocodile

caiman vs crocodile
The habitats of caimans and crocodiles differ, with crocodiles found around the world and caimans found only in Central and South America.

©Ricardo de Paula Ferreira/Shutterstock.com

There are many key differences between a caiman vs crocodile. Caimans are smaller than crocodiles as a whole, with a U-shaped snout compared to the V-shaped snout of a crocodile. The habitats of caimans and crocodiles also differ, with crocodiles found around the world and caimans found only in Central and South America. Finally, crocodiles tend to outlive caimans by a large margin.

Let’s discuss some of these differences in more detail now.

Caiman vs Crocodile: Genus

caiman vs crocodile
Caimans are members of the Caimaninae genus, while crocodiles are members of the Crocodylus genus.

©ChameleonsEye/Shutterstock.com

Did you know that caimans and crocodiles are members of different genuses? Caimans are members of the Caimaninae genus, while crocodiles are members of the Crocodylus genus. While this may seem like an unnecessary distinction, caimans are actually more closely related to alligators rather than crocodiles. This becomes more clear as we address their physical differences now. 

Both caimans and crocodiles can be traced back to dinosaurs, and they haven’t changed much from an evolutionary standpoint over the past 200 million years. This is remarkable when you consider how many other animals have evolved and changed!

Caiman vs Crocodile: Physical Appearance and Size

Caimans have a smaller body compared to crocodiles on average.

©Russell Smith / Flickr

Crocodiles and caimans can be very difficult to tell apart upon first glance. However, there are some physical differences that are evident right off the bat. For example, caimans have a smaller body compared to crocodiles on average. You can also tell the difference between a caiman and a crocodile based on their snout shape. 

Much like alligators, caimans have a U-shaped snout, while crocodiles have a V-shaped snout. Many caimans also have overbites, while crocodiles do not. Otherwise, the physical appearance of caimans and crocodiles is very similar, beside one important physical difference: their size. 

The average caiman reaches anywhere from 10-600 pounds and grows 5-19 feet long, while crocodiles weigh 50-2,000 pounds and reach lengths of 5-25 feet long. While it depends on the specific type of crocodile, the caiman rarely grows to be as large as a crocodile does. However, you are unlikely to notice this unless you are looking at the two side by side!

Caiman vs Crocodile: Behavior and Diet

caiman vs crocodile
Much like alligators, caimans have a U-shaped snout, while crocodiles have a V-shaped snout.

©Milan Zygmunt/Shutterstock.com

There are many differences between a caiman versus crocodile when you consider their behavior and dietary preferences. For example, caimans eat fish, crustaceans, waterfowl, and capybara, while crocodiles eat fish, crustaceans, deer, and buffalo if they are large enough. The size differences of these two reptiles is often what determines what they eat, with caimans eating much smaller prey compared to crocodiles.

While both of these creatures require sunlight and warmth in order to survive, there are certain types of hunting differences between caimans and crocodiles. For example, the majority of crocodile species hunt in the water, given that they are more capable in this environment, but some caiman species are capable of hunting on land. Both caimans and crocodiles prefer to hunt at night. They are also extremely territorial and violent during their respective mating seasons.

Caiman vs Crocodile: Preferred Habitat and Geographic Location

caiman vs crocodile
Caimans eat fish, crustaceans, waterfowl, and capybara, while crocodiles eat fish, crustaceans, deer, and buffalo if they are large enough.

©Glenn Young/Shutterstock.com

Depending on the species of crocodile, there are many different environments and habitats that crocodiles live in when compared to caimans. For example, caimans are only found in Central and South America, while there are species of crocodiles that live in Asia, Africa, South America, and North America. 

Crocodiles live in freshwater and saltwater environments, such as freshwater marshes, rivers, lakes and mangrove swamps. Caimans live in rivers, lakes and swampland throughout Central and South America, and they tend to avoid other species of caimans or crocodiles so that there are plenty of food resources for everyone.

Some species of caiman burrow in mud if their watery environments run dry, and some species of crocodiles are capable of climbing trees. The location and habitat of these two reptiles greatly affects their behavior and hunting habits, so it is always fascinating to look at their species or types in greater detail.

Caiman vs Crocodile: Lifespan

Strongest animal bite – saltwater crocodile
Caimans are only found in Central and South America, while there are species of crocodiles that live in Asia, Africa, South America, and North America.

©Pius Rino Pungkiawan/Shutterstock.com

A final difference between a caiman vs crocodile is their respective lifespans. A caiman lives an average of 20-40 years, while crocodiles live an average of 20-70 years. The crocodile likely outlives the caiman due to its larger size and fewer threats to it as an apex predator. Caimans are excellent predators on their own, but their small size often makes them vulnerable, especially at young ages.


The Featured Image

Animals With the Toughest Skin-crocodile
An Australian crocodile at the water edge. Crocodiles have the strongest bite of any animal in the world.
© Audrey Snider-Bell/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I am a non-binary freelance writer working full-time in Oregon. Graduating Southern Oregon University with a BFA in Theatre and a specialization in creative writing, I have an invested interest in a variety of topics, particularly Pacific Northwest history. When I'm not writing personally or professionally, you can find me camping along the Oregon coast with my high school sweetheart and Chihuahua mix, or in my home kitchen, perfecting recipes in a gleaming cast iron skillet.

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