The Croc and Gator Blog Jun 18, 2015

By Lauren Augustine

crocodile with open mouth
Summer has officially arrived in DC! And while visitors to the Zoo often flock to shade or the air conditioned buildings (like the Reptile Discovery Center), some animals are reveling in the heat—like our crocodiles. Crocodiles are ectothermic, meaning their body temperature is derived from the external environment. Their skin is specially designed to absorb heat and maintain temperature. When a crocodile is basking, or laying in the sun, it is raising its body temperature. When it wants to cool back down it can move out of the sun into the shade or a body or water. Another option for the crocodile is to open its mouth. This behavior is a way for the crocodile to release the heat from its body. It's similar to a dog panting to cool down. Crocodilians have evolved to maximize heat gain and minimize water loss. Basically, they can't sweat like we do to cool down. They evolved other methods of cooling, by opening their mouths and essentially sweating through their mouths. If you visit RDC and see the crocs sitting with their mouths open, they're just trying to cool down a little bit.