With the most restricted range of any crocodilian, the Cuban
crocodile is in danger of extinction due to habitat alteration,
hunting, and competition with introduced caimans.
Cuban crocodiles vary in color from yellowish or yellow-green
with dense dark green or black blotches. Their backs and necks
are mostly black or blackish, and their legs and sides are
spotted. White eyelid edges give these reptiles a spectacled
look. Juveniles are more brightly colored - more yellowish
and spotted - than adults. Cuban crocodiles have stout,
muscular legs and slightly ridged scales on their tails.
Male Cuban crocodiles
generally grow to about ten and a half feet long, although
15-foot-long individuals have been reported.
crocodile are now restricted to the Zapata Swamp, a one-million-acre
wilderness in southwestern Cuba. They have also been reintroduced
on the Isla de Juventud in Lanier Swamp.
The Cuban crocodile
is listed as critically endangered on the World Conservation Union's
(IUCN's) Red List of Threatened Animals.
inhabit freshwater swampland, although they can probably tolerate
brackish conditions. Their Zapata Swamp habitat is very similar
to that found in Florida's Everglades, with sawgrass and dense
shrubs growing in the water.
eat small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish, and
invertebrates. Broad teeth in the back of their mouths may
be an adaptation to facilitate the crushing of tough turtle
National Zoo Diet:
large Cuban crocodiles eat rabbits; smaller ones are fed mice
Less is known
of Cuban crocodiles' natural history than that of other crocodilians,
including its reproductive habits. For instance, some describe
these animals' nests as holes dug in the ground and filled
with dirt and vegetable matter, but zoos and researchers in
the field have reported that the crocodiles lay their eggs
in mound nests not unlike those made by alligators. Large
females lay up to 40 eggs.
The lifespan of
the Cuban crocodile remains unknown. Like all crocodilians,
they are probably long-lived and may live up to 75 years in
ambush prey floating or swimming in the water and leap out
of the water. They may also eat small mammals on land.
crocodiles were once far more widespread on Cuba and also
lived on the Bahaman and Cayman islands. Their numbers dwindled
following widespread destruction of wetlands for agriculture,
heavy hunting pressure, and the introduction of common caiman
, with which Cuban crocodiles
can interbreed. Zoos and crocodile farms are breeding pure
Cuban crocodiles, and these animals may someday join wild
ones. The National Zoo participates in a Species Survival
Plan (SSP) that coordinates zoo breeding for this species,
and breeds its animals according to SSP recommendations. Meanwhile,
Cuban conservation measures have helped the Zapata Swamp crocodiles
to rebound to between 3,000 and 6,000 animals. Future protection
measures will need to include protecting Zapata Swamp from
further destruction, establishing other wild populations as
insurance against extinction, and carefully monitoring the
A Few Cuban Crocodile Neighbor:
Zapata rail (Cyanolimnas
cerverai): A small, elusive marsh bird found only in
the sawgrass and bush-covered Zapata Swamp.
Zapata wren (Ferminia
cerverai): A small grayish brown bird that lives in dense
shrubs of the Zapata Swamp.
Bee Hummingbird (Mellisuga
helenae): The world's smallest bird has one of its strongholds
in and near the Zapata Swamp.
By saving Cuban crocodile habitat, these and many other animals
Crocodiles & Alligators of the World, by David
Alderton; Sterling Publications, 1998.
Copyright 2000, Friends of the National Zoo.