Meet the World’s Weirdest Crocodile Species (They’re Orange and Live in Caves!)

African Dwarf Crocodile
© iStock.com/Profimaximus

Written by Megan Martin

Updated: September 13, 2023

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Have you ever wondered what the world’s weirdest crocodile species is? As living dinosaurs, crocodiles are already fascinating. However, in recent years, scientists may have discovered the weirdest crocodile species ever. Hint: They’re orange!

Ready to learn more about the orange crocodiles of Gabon? Keep reading!

Would you believe that there are orange crocodiles on Earth?

About Orange Crocodiles

Despite having been around in the scientific world for years, not a lot is known about these orange crocodiles. In fact, it took two years after their discovery for scientists to even realize they were orange!

The story of Gabon’s orange crocodiles can be traced back to Richard Oslisly, Olivier Testa, and Matthew Shirley, as well as the other members of the research team. Having set out on an expedition to Abanda (a cave system in Western Africa) to look for traces of ancient human life, this research team wasn’t expecting to discover these crocodiles while exploring the countryside. However, now that they have, we can begin to understand more about this interesting, emerging species.

These orange crocodiles of Gabon are a part of the species of dwarf crocodiles (Osteolaemus tetraspis). They tend to grow to be around five feet long. Their bright orange color is suspected to come as a result of their underground home. At first, scientists thought that the pigment came from eating bats in the cave, which are also orange. These suspicions arose when bats were found to be a part of these cave crocs’ diets, along with snails. However, now, scientists are leaning more towards the idea that they get their coloration from the droppings of bats, which have a skin-bleaching effect.

The orange crocodile is a variation of the African dwarf

crocodile

.

©Ryan E. Poplin / Creative Commons – Original

Where Is the World’s Weirdest Crocodile Species Found?

As mentioned above, this weird crocodile species is found in Gabon, Africa. They’re specifically found in the caves of the southern Omboue region. Found on the west coast of Africa, Gabon is already home to rich biodiversity that can be hard to replicate elsewhere in the world. Orange crocodiles are just another surprise.

The orange

crocodiles live

in the Abanda Caves of Gabon, underneath a lagoon of regular dwarf crocodiles.

©Staycoolandbegood – Public Domain

About the Abanda Caves in Gabon

The caves that the orange crocodiles were found in are known as the Abanda Caves. This cave complex is found upstream of Fernan Vaz Lagoon, which is home to a healthy population of crocodiles.

The Abanda Caves are actually made up of two independent cave networks. The first is the Dinguembou Cave, and the second is the Mugumbi Cave. Along with the world’s weirdest crocodile species, more than 100,000 bats are in these caves.

How Did These Crocodiles Get Here?

We aren’t quite too sure how the crocodiles got here. However, the scientists working behind the scenes in the Abanda Caves have an idea.

The specific area where these orange crocodiles live is only accessible through vertical shafts. However, there are some horizontal areas that fill with lagoon water only to drain later. Right now, it’s suspected that the original cave crocodiles came into these spots only to be too large to escape. As a result, they created their own population underground.

How Do the Cave Crocodiles Differ From Other Types of Crocodiles?

Although these crocodiles are the same species as other African dwarf crocodiles (for now), it doesn’t mean they’re without their differences.

One of the most notable differences is in their appearance. First, they have striking orange skin that it’s hard to miss in the light. They also have red eyes, and it’s suspected that they may have poor vision as a result of living in the cave. On top of coloration differences, they also have different head shapes.

The differences don’t stop there, however. Above ground, crocodiles have a diverse diet. They commonly eat mammals, birds, and fish. However, inside the Abanda caves, these options aren’t available. Instead, as mentioned above, the cave crocodiles eat bats, snails, and shells.

This is a regular

dwarf crocodile

. The orange crocodiles have a slightly different head shape.

©Eric Danley / Flickr – Original

Is This a New Species?

As of right now, these crocodiles aren’t being classified as a different species. This is thanks to an in-depth comparison that shows that, for now, the cave crocodiles are still closely related to those above ground. The team was able to do this through blood samples from the cave crocs, which they compared to around 200 above-ground individuals. However, while they’re the same species for now, it’s possible that, in a few thousand years, this may not be the case.

During their research, Shirley noted that although the orange crocodiles are the same species as other above-ground crocodiles, they have what he described as a “genetic signature.” This has allowed generations to survive the cave systems of Gabon. As time passes, there’s no guarantee of how this genetic signature will change – or how the cave crocodiles will change with it.


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About the Author

Megan is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is birds, felines, and sharks. She has been researching and writing about animals for four years, and she holds a Bachelor of Arts in English with minors in biology and professional and technical writing from Wingate University, which she earned in 2022. A resident of North Carolina, Megan is an avid birdwatcher that enjoys spending time with her cats and exploring local zoological parks with her husband.

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