Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Published: September 24, 2022
© A-Z-Animals.com
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Alligators and crocodiles are large reptiles that dominate their habitats. Their size, massive biting power, and tenacity make them some of the most dangerous animals, especially crocodiles. Although they may look very similar, the two creatures are very unique. In this article, we’re going to examine the Nile crocodile vs alligator and show you how a deadly crocodile species matches up to the two types of alligators that exist today.

When we’re finished, you’ll know how to tell these reptiles apart from one another with ease!

Comparing a Nile Crocodile and an Alligator

Nile crocodiles hunt zebras, large waterfowl, wildebeests, and even humans that wander into their areas.

©Mari Swanepoel/Shutterstock.com

Nile CrocodileAlligator
SizeWeight: 500-910 lbs, up to 2,400 lbs
Length: 9-15 feet, up to 21 feet
Weight: 79-500 lbs, up to 1200 lbs
Length: 4.9-15 ft
SpeciesCrocodylus niloticusAlligator mississippiensis
– Alligator sinensis
Morphology– Bronze color on top of its body with yellowish-brown on its sides.
– Cream-colored underside with spotted sides
– V-shaped snout
– 66 teeth that interdigitate on their jaws
– Black, gray, dark gray, and a cream-colored underside
– 80 teeth
– U-shaped snout
– Larger upper jaw that overlaps lower jaw
Location– Can tolerate saltwater, but it’s usually found in freshwater rivers
– Found throughout sub-Saharan Africa, including Madagascar
– Prefers rivers, streams, tidal lakes, and estuaries.
– American alligator dwells primarily in freshwater wetlands, swamps, ponds, lakes, and brackish waters.
– American alligator lives along the coasts of the U.S., from Texas to North Carolina.
– Chinese alligators live in freshwater wetlands like rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes.
– Chinese alligator primarily lives in the Anhui province and the Zhejiang province.
Prey– Apex predator in its area
– Birds, zebras, wildebeests, frogs, waterfowl, and much more
– Capable of eating just about anything in its range, including people.
– American and Chinese alligators are apex predators in their area
– Chinese alligator eats many aquatic birds and rodents along with insects, mollusks, and other invertebrates
– American alligators eat waterfowl, fruit, domestic animals, deer, boars, bobcats, bears, fish, and more.
Relationship with Humans– Considered to be far more aggressive than the American crocodile toward humans.
– Responsible for about 1,000 human deaths every year.
– The Yangtze or Chinese alligator does not attack humans unless provoked, and rarely kills humans.
– American alligators infrequently attack people, but they do cause fatal attacks on people.

The Key Differences Between a Nile Crocodile vs Alligator

The biggest differences between a Nile crocodile and an alligator include their size, morphology, and habitats.

A Nile crocodile is far larger than any alligator, weighing between 500 and 900 pounds on average and measuring between 9 and 15 feet long. Meanwhile, alligators only measure between 79 and 500 pounds on average and measure between 4 and 15 feet.

Nile crocodiles have a V-shaped snout, 66 teeth, and jaws that allow those teeth to interdigitate, but alligators have 80 teeth, a U-shaped snout, and a larger upper jaw that overlaps the lower jaw.

Lastly, although crocodiles can survive in saltwater better than alligators, the Nile crocodile famously lives primarily in freshwater, and both species of alligators also live in freshwater. These differences make these creatures unique and affect many other aspects of their lives.  

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Species

American alligator,Alligator mississippiensis on a white background
American alligators are significantly larger and heavier than Chinese alligators.

©reptiles4all/Shutterstock.com

The Nile crocodile is from the species Crocodylus niloticus. That is one species of crocodile out of several. However, only two species of alligator exist. The most widespread is Alligator mississippiensis, the American alligator. The second is Alligator sinensis, the Chinese alligator.  

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Size

Nile Crocodile isolated on white background.
On average, the Nile alligator measures between 9 and 15 feet long and weighs between 500 and 900 pounds.

©ShutterOK/Shutterstock.com

The Nile crocodile is larger than both species of alligator. On average, the Nile alligator measures between 9 and 15 feet long and weighs between 500 and 900 pounds. However, large specimens often weigh over 1,000 pounds, upwards of 2,400. Moreover, the largest Nile crocodile measured 21 feet long!

The Chinese alligator is smaller than the American alligator, usually weighing 100 pounds or fewer. Combined, the average alligator weighs up to 500 pounds, with a maximum of over 1,200 pounds. They grow between 4.5 and 15 feet at their longest.

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Morphology

alligator
Alligators can sometimes be found in river deltas.

©Jim Schwabel/Shutterstock.com

The Nile crocodile has a vastly different morphology than alligators. The Nile crocodile has a bronze color on top of its body that becomes yellow-brown on the sides and cream-colored on the bottom. However, alligators are very dark on top, either black, gray, or dark gray.

Also, the Nile crocodile has a V-shaped snout, while alligators have a U-shaped snout. The Nile crocodile has 66 teeth in its mouth, which interdigitate when the jaw closes. However, the American alligator has 80 teeth, and the upper jaw overlaps the bottom jaw.  

These morphological differences, along with the size differences in the species, make them identifiable.

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Location

Nile Crocodiles are found throughout almost the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa.

©Johan Swanepoel/Shutterstock.com

Although the name may make you think the crocodile only lives in the Nile River, the truth is that the Nile Crocodile has a very wide range. They are found throughout almost the entirety of sub-Saharan Africa. They have even made their way to Madagascar! Within that range, they live in freshwater rivers, streams, estuaries, and tidal lakes.

American alligators are found in freshwater swamps, ponds, lakes, and other waters from the East Coast state of North Carolina down along the coast to Texas. Chinese alligators live in a very small range, only in the Anhui and Zhejiang provinces in China. They live in rivers, lakes, ponds, and marshes.

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Prey

alligator looking at camera with mouth open
American alligators eat deer, boars, bobcats, small bears, and more.

©iStock.com/tobiasfrei

Nile crocodiles hunt larger prey than both types of alligators. They are apex predators that eat zebras, large waterfowl, wildebeests, and even humans that wander into their areas.

Alligators are apex predators in their respective areas, too. Chinese alligators eat invertebrates, rodents, and aquatic birds. However, American alligators eat deer, boars, bobcats, small bears, and more. American alligators would probably not be able to take down many of the crocodile’s largest prey, though.

Nile Crocodile vs Alligator: Relationship with Humans

Nile crocodiles are much large and deadly in their extensive ranges.

©David Havel/Shutterstock.com

Nile crocodiles are very aggressive creatures, and they are known for injuring and killing human beings. It’s estimated that as many as 1,000 people die yearly from crocodile attacks. Chinese alligators are rather shy and try to avoid humans. American alligators rarely attack and kill humans, but it does happen. Alligators in the United States have only been responsible for about 20 deaths in the United States.

As you can see, Nile crocodiles and alligators are very different. Although they look similar, Nile crocodiles are much larger and deadlier in their extensive ranges. Now that you know how to tell them apart, it’s a good idea to avoid getting close to either of these creatures in the wild.

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Nile Crocodile vs Alligator
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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Sources
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  4. Smithsonian’s National Zoo & Conservation Biology Institute, Available here: https://nationalzoo.si.edu/animals/chinese-alligator