Crocodiles vs. Caimans All Differences Explained

crocodile vs caiman differences

Most people confuse between crocodiles and caimans. The alligators and crocodiles express minimal noticeable differences. Being that caimans come from the alligator family and the larger ones in the family, they often get confused with crocodiles. 

Crocodiles, on the other hand, come from the crocodile family. Although they may seem hard to differentiate, these reptiles have some aspects that may tell them apart. Let’s highlight some of these differences that will help in differentiating caimans from crocodiles.

8 Differences Between Crocodiles and Caimans

The families– the two creatures come from different families. Crocodiles come from the Crocodylidae and caimans being from the family Alligatoridae.

The sizes– crocodiles have shown to be larger than the caimans

Habitats– crocodiles live in both salty and freshwater bodies while caimans prefer freshwater more

Distribution– crocodiles have a global distribution while caimans live in specific places in the world.

Body features– the crocodiles have significant body features that differentiate in a big way from the caimans.

Weight and length-the caimans have smaller size and length compared to the crocodiles.

Color– caimans have a deep colorization, while crocodiles seem lighter in color.

Aggressiveness- crocodiles express more aggressive character than caimans

Let’s explore these differences in detail to give you a clearer picture of these differences. These differences will help you tell apart these creatures quickly.

1. Families

Scientific names form the basis of understanding these reptile creatures. All these animals share similar classifications up to the order Crocodylia. The order Crocodylia subdivides into several families, with Crocodylidae and Alligatoridae being some of them. The Crocodylidae becomes the crocodile’s family while Alligatoridae gives rise to the Caimans and alligators.

2. Size

Generally, the crocodiles appear larger than the caimans. Caimans grow up to 2 or 3 meters in length, with the black caiman species growing up to four meters.

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On the other hand, the crocodiles grow up to 4 meters in length. And some grow up to 7 meters hence being bigger than the caimans. The caimans grow from 6 to 40 kg depending on the species, while the black caiman gets up to 400 kilograms. Crocodiles grow up to 1000 kg.

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3. Habitats

Crocodiles live in both salty and fresh water. Crocodiles express the semi-aquatic nature, and you will find them sometimes in water and sometimes out of water. The freshwater lakes and salty accommodate crocodiles and, in other cases, large rivers. Caimans will occupy the fresh and saline water habitats. The only difference is that these two creatures rarely co-exist.

In most cases, the water habitats will get occupied by a specific creature but not both. These creatures co-exist only in the Everglades area. Caimans may sometimes serve as pets, unlike crocodiles.

4. Location

You might be wondering the big-like lizards in your region if they might be crocodiles or caimans. I once heard my son tell me he had seen a caiman. We had visited Denali in Alaska. And this statement got me thinking if it was a caiman my son had seen or a crocodile. 

He had seen a crocodile since caimans won’t survive in cold regions. Only crocodiles may live in both hot and cold areas of the world. Crocodiles have a wide distribution from Africa to India and America, while caimans only live in central and southern America.

5. Body Features

Generally, crocodiles will be bigger than caimans. The feet of crocodiles seem more webbed than those of caimans. If you look at the snout, you will realize that caimans have a rounded U-shaped one, while crocodiles have a V-shaped one. 

The U shape in caimans’ snout allows them to have an overbite. On the contrary, the crocodiles don’t afford an overbite. Also, the lower and upper jaws in crocodiles enable the teeth to be visible since they have the same length. The caimans have a smaller lower jaw which fits into a depression on the upper jaw.


6. Length

If you get the chance to visit the mashes and water habitat with these two, the larger ones will be the crocodiles. The crocodiles grow to a length of 7 meters for the largest species of crocodiles. Caimans will grow up to 2 to 3 meters, mainly with the largest black caiman growing up to 4 meters. 

For the weight, crocodiles weigh more, being that the largest species of crocodiles grow to 1000 kilograms. Caimans grow up to 40 kilograms, but the black caiman, which weighs up to 400 kilograms, becomes the heaviest.

7. Color

The colors may be similar, but caimans have a darker grey, green or black-grey color. If these creatures live in algae containing water, they will appear green. This color also happens when this water has close large green trees where the algae contribute more to the green color.

On the contrary, crocodiles will appear lighter in coloring. Most crocodiles will have a lighter olive green or brownish color. If you visit the Everglades region where they co-exist, the crocodiles will appear of a lighter shade of color than the caimans.

8. Aggression

Do you know why the caimans may serve as better pets than crocodiles? The caimans pose a calmer and less aggressive character. If the caimans stay undisturbed, they will rarely attack. Once the caimans notice a human presence, they quickly move to the water and avoid confrontations. These creatures will only attack under severe conflict.

Crocodiles will attack you even without provocation. On the opposite, the crocodiles seem very aggressive. They seem easily angered and waiting for the slightest provocation to start an attack. This aggressive character won’t allow them to serve as pets.

Frequently Asked Questions

Question: Can caimans and crocodiles interbreed?

Answer: For any organisms to interbreed and bring up a young one, they need to be of the same species. Although the caimans and crocodiles get termed as crocodilians, they come from different families. This trait doesn’t allow them to share the same species groups, and then it will be impossible for them to interbreed and bring out viable offspring. So no, these two can’t interbreed.

Question: Between the crocodile and caiman, who will win a fight if they fought?

Answer: The crocodiles seem more aggressive. Because the crocodiles also have larger sizes than the caimans, it would give them an advantage over the caimans. If two adult creatures from both groups fought, it would be likely that the crocodile would win. The heavy and more dominant animal might win over the little one. Crocodiles have a more aggressive attitude, and I bet they certainly would win over the caimans. But if an older caiman fought with a younger crocodile, I bet the caiman could win. The younger crocodile might be aggressive, but the caiman may have the size advantage and win this time around.

Question: Do caimans and crocodiles give birth or lay eggs?

Answer: All reptiles lay eggs. So yes, being that these two creatures come from reptiles, they will both lay eggs. When the eggs hatch, they produce small caimans and crocodiles with lengths of less than 100 centimeters each. They will then grow into many meters later on.

Question: Is caiman a type of crocodile?

Answer: The two share the same order, Crocodylia. This order name may be the reason why most people refer to all the animals like crocodiles. But these animals have different families and species classifications. The physical characteristics make them look similar, with some people calling caimans small crocodiles. The fact remains that caimans are not crocodiles but share the same Crocodylia order.

Question: What differentiates a caiman from a crocodile?

Answer: All the differences discussed in this article will help you get a clear picture of the differences between a caiman and a crocodile. But just at a quick check, crocodiles will be larger and bigger than caimans. The colorization may also help you in telling them apart. The crocodiles have the lighter coloring of a green, grey and brownish color. Caimans, on the other hand, have a deep coloring of these colors. The spectacled caiman has a spectacle-looking ridge between its eyes which you will find in crocodiles. If you see this spectacle-looking ridge, then you will tell it’s a caiman and not a crocodile.

Question: Can a caiman kill a human being?

Answer: The caimans rarely attack humans. In most scenarios, they retrieve into the water when they see people. But when provoked and attacked by humans, they have a deadly bite. These creatures, like all big reptiles, may attack and kill a person. If you happen to pet a caiman, you should never provoke it. You should always maintain a safe distance.

Question: Can a crocodile kill a person?

Answer: Unlike caimans, crocodiles get known for their aggressive nature. They will attack you even without provocation. The bite of a crocodile will be lethal to a person or other animals. Being a carnivore, they feed on meat, and you may end up being its prey quite easily. Ensure you keep a safe distance when dealing with crocodiles.