This MLA paper compares and contrasts alligators and crocodiles. It highlights his differences and traces their roots back to ancient times. This sample essay was written at the undergraduate level to serve as a sample for the Ultius blog.
Reptile review: alligators versus crocodiles
Some of nature’s scariest, meanest, and toughest of aquatic productions are alligators and crocodiles. Though similar, each is distinct and should not be confused for the other. The history, biology, and relevance of each is worth noting from both an environmental and zoological sense as they are creatures of power, intrigue, mystery, and mythology. In sum, each is a fascinating creature with unique and deadly characteristics.
Analyzing the crocodile
The crocodiles are the world’s largest documented reptiles. The average crocodile is 6 to 12 feet long however some have been found as long as 20 feet (6.1 meters) long. These crocodiles can weigh near one ton (2,000 pounds) (Welsbacher 7). For comparison, that is about as much as a lightweight car. Crocodiles have arrived at this size after million upon millions of years evolution. Indeed, they are one of the oldest animals on the planet whose beginnings trace back to the time of the dinosaurs who long ago went extinct (Welsbacher 7).
Crocodiles are members of the Crocodilia reptile Group. This family of reptiles, like all reptiles, is cold-blooded. The body-temperature thus changes to match their surroundings (Welsbacher 8). Crocodiles have short legs that are connected to long bodies and longer tails. The crocodile’s snout is relatively thin and pointed with narrow eyes which are situated in the high part of the head (Welbacher 8). Within this fierce looking head structure rests 60 razor sharp teeth. The crocodile ranges from olive green to gray in color with the belly generally showing a softer cream scale (Welbacher 8).
The color is plated upon the crocodile’s rock-hard scales, tissue that is made of keratin, the same material that fingernails are made out of. Some types of crocodiles also have scales on their backs which are pointed into hard points down or parallel to their spine known as scutes (Welbacher 9). Underneath these scutes are osteoderms, bony plates that help them to absorb heat from the sun. Indeed, sunning themselves is something that the crocodiles regularly.
When not sunning themselves, the crocodile can be found busying themselves with many different activities. The crocodile is known to walk over land with a good speed even in muddy areas (Welbacher 11). The crocodile is also liked for their ability to move through mud quickly as they crawl on their bellies. The galloping speed of the croc is 10 miles an hour, a pace most children could not keep up with (Welbacher).
While underwater, crocodiles are capable of holding their breath for as long as two hours. An amazing feat accomplished without the use of gills thanks their amazing ability to vastly slow down their heart. While underwater, crocodiles may drop their heart to just two to three beats a minute. This means that over the course of an hour submersion, the crocodile may only beat their heart a few dozen. Their achievement is all a part of an adapted skill they have developed in order to have masterful dives. Like scuba divers, the Crocodile must adjust its internal pressure so that they can stay submerged for as long as they need to for survival and hunting.
For example, when they first dive under the water, they will exhale their oxygen supply. In so doing, they equalize their internal pressure to match the water and therefore can have prolonged dives with, as their heart pace shows, absolute minimal effort (How Long?). The blood of the crocodile is also well engineered so as to distribute oxygen release in areas where it is most needed and conserve it where there already is high degree of oxygen (How Long?). Typically, however, the crocodile will only dive for fifteen minutes as this resurface rate permits greater activity needed to hunt.
Analyzing the alligator
The alligator shares many of the characteristics of the crocodile however they are distinct in some key ways. The alligator like the crocodile in is in Crocodilia Order as it is also a prehistoric lizard of gargantuan size (Schechter and Street). The Alligator is a member of the Alligatoridae Family and the Genus/species Alligator Mississippiensis. Alligators are not quite as long as crocodiles and come in two sizes. The American alligator is at max size 11 feet, weighing half a ton, while Chinese alligators are much smaller at 4. 9 feet long with a weight of just 50 lbs. (Bradford).
As the name implies, the American alligator is from the American continent and is specifically found in slow-moving rivers, ponds, swamps, and lakes from North Carolina to Texas (Bradford). The Chinese alligator is native to the China’s Yangtze River basin not far from the Pacific Ocean. Once they were located in many of the same places that their American cousins were found, like lakes, rivers, and swamps, however with humanity’s urban sprawl they are now mostly found in ditches and ponds near agricultural lands as so many of their lands have been made in to rice paddies (Bradford).
Did you know? There’s an urban legend about alligators living in urban sewers?
The alligator also has an osteoplate skeletal frame with scutes (Schecter and Street) These help to not only soak up sun but act as armor as well, something the alligator is likely to need more of now that human influence and interference have disrupted their habitats. The alligator is different in that they will have coloring stripes of black or yellow along their tail. The adults usually have the dark stripes whereas the juveniles have the paler striation (Schecter and Street).
There are easier ways to distinguish a crocodile from an alligator. An alligator typically has a fourth tooth in their lower jaw that fits securely into a socket in the upper jaw as they close their mouths thus hiding their largest and sharpest teeth. Crocodiles on the other side have teeth that remain visible when the mouth is open (Schecter and Street). The alligator does nonetheless have an impressive number of teeth; between 74 and 80 which will be regularly replace throughout the course of the alligator’s lifetime. On average, an alligator will go through two to three thousand teeth which are created regularly (Schecter and Street).
Their diet is mostly meat and they will eat most anything they come across made from flesh. Fish, birds, mollusks, and even other reptiles are fair game for the alligator (Bradford). They do also eat fruit from time to time as well (Switek).
Mating for alligators typically begins in June, the time when a male may fertilize many females within a single sea of mating (Bradford). The female on the other hand will usually take a single male mate. Once July rolls around, the females will make a nest in the mud of plants and sticks which will carry the laid eggs. These eggs can range in numbers as high as 50 to as low as 10 (Bradford). These eggs are relatively hard-shelled for their protection however the female will go even further to cover them with mud, sticks, and more plants to insure their survival against predators and waves. Nonetheless, the female will still stay around for weeks to months until the eggs are ready to hatch, usually in September.
At this period, the female will remove debris from the nest or even break open the hard shells with their mouths, a remarkable task given the size of the alligator’s mouth and the delicacy of the egg (Bradford). Sometimes the young alligator will sound high-pitched cries inside the egg which can let the mother know it’s time to come out (Schechter and Street).
Once born, the hatchlings will stay within the protection of their mother as each weigh just 1.05 ounces, or 30 grams, and is 8.3 inches long (Bradford). They live close to their mother in ‘pods.’ Pods are small groups that help to prevent mortality from the numerous river predators like bobcats, otters, snakes, large bass, and even other alligators (Schechter and Street).
The fact that the mother aggressively defends her kin makes the alligator unique among reptiles which usually leave their young behind once they hatch (Schechter and Street). After two years of nurturance and steady growth, a pace of about a foot a year, they will head out on their own to start families on their own. At year six they are considered fully mature (Schechter and Street).
When the colder months roll through, the alligator actually has a hibernation period. As weather becomes frigid, the gator will build a hole in the ground through steady digging. This is called a “gator hole” and is used for their rest. The tunnel may be as long as 65 feet and made mostly of mud. Occasionally, gator holes fill with water. They still are able to provide protection from cold and/or hot weather when the climate gets extreme. Once, utilized and abandoned, the gator hole may be used by other creatures (Schechter and Street).
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History and cultural impact
Alligators and crocodiles are the biggest reptiles on the planet. They typically do not compete however it is possible to compare them to gain insight into the unique behavior and situations of each. An alligator is a long-lived animal. The alligator can live to be 50 years in the wild. Researchers indicate that when they are about 4 feet long, they will be safe from predators.
There is nonetheless considerable damage and threat to alligator habitats which have troubled the species coming from human activities and the endangerment it creates. The American alligator is at the present time listed as one of the U.S.’s endangered species (Schecther and Street). The crocodile is similarly protected from most natural predators, yet they are specifically hunted by humans in great numbers.
Although its hunting status is mostly controlled by state authorities in the U.S., the crocodile is still also on the endangered species list (Schechter and Street). The greatest threats to these species are however in the realm of environmental and marine pollution. Mercury and dioxins in the water is lethal to alligators and crocodiles and can hamper their survival.
From a cultural perspective, both the alligator and crocodile have much to contribute. The Egyptians worshiped a crocodile god called Sobek. Sobek is a crocodile headed man who was a primal creator god whose spirit is linked to the sun god Ra. Sobek’s worship was inspired in part by the association had between Crocodiles and the Nile, a principle source of wealth, health, and transportation for Egypt (Sobek). In his temples, live crocodiles were kept and pampered with regular offerings. In general, Sobek was seen as a god of protection and good who helped to fight evil, cure ills, and tame crocodiles (Sobek).
Alligators have had their own cultural following in Florida where they have become the state’s official reptile since 1987. The ‘Gators’, are also a Florida football team which further reinforces the cultural relevancy of the alligator (Schechter and Street). Despite their popularity, alligators and crocodiles are incredibly dangerous. An alligator is known to have a bite force of 2960 pounds, something that makes them quite lethal (Switek).
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Alligators and Crocodiles are fierce predators and have bite capacities that are profoundly dangerous, incredible dive times, and armor that keeps them safe from most any predator. They are still however in danger from the activities of humans, something that should be addressed in the twenty-first century so that the world can continue to enjoy alligators and crocodiles, some of the oldest reptiles on Earth who have been around since the times of the dinosaurs.
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Bradford, Alina. Facts about Alligators. Livescience.com, 2014. http://www.livescience.com/27306-alligator-facts.html.
How long can a crocodile stay underwater? Crocodillian.org, 2012. Web, 2016. http://crocodilian.com/cnhc/cbd-faq-q5.htm.
Schechter, Benjamin & Street, Robin. American Alligator, n.d. Web. July 15, 2016. https://nationalzoo.si.edu/Animals/ReptilesAmphibians/Facts/FactSheets/Americanalligator.cfm.
Sobek, Crystal Links, n.d. Web. July 15, 2016. http://www.crystalinks.com/sobek.html.
Switek, Brian. 11 Terrifying and Amazing Facts about Alligators. Mental Floss. http://mentalfloss.com/article/56093/11-terrifying-and-amazing-facts-about-alligators.
Welsbacher, Anne. Crocodiles. High-Interest Books, 2003. Print.