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Alligators Crocodiles Caimans and Gharials: Crocodylia


Crocodilians are meat-eaters, or carnivores (KAR-nih-voars), and most are not picky about their prey. Youngsters usually eat insects, spiders, and other invertebrates (in-VER-teh-brehts), or animals without backbones, as well fishes and other small vertebrates (VER-teh-brehts), which are animals with backbones. As they grow older, they begin taking larger and larger prey. The typical adult crocodilian eats everything from clams to frogs, and birds to mammals. Some, such as the Indian gharial, have jaws that are well-suited to catching fish, and they stick to a mainly fish diet. At the end of its thin jaw, the gharial has a number of very sharp teeth that jut out almost sideways in a pincushion fashion. To catch a fish, the gharial lies still, waits for a fish to come close, and then swishes its jaw sideways to skewer the fish on its teeth. With a flick of its head, the gharial tosses the fish off its teeth and down its throat.


About 110 million years ago, a massive beast roamed the waters of Earth. The head of this creature, an ancient relative of modern-day crocodilians, was 5 feet (1.5 meters) long, and its body grew to a whopping 39 feet (12 meters). A team of scientists found the remains of five of the animals, named Sarcosuchus imperator or "emperor of the flesh-eating crocodiles," in 2000. From the fossil skulls, they determined that its diet consisted of large animals, which it hunted by ambush.

Other crocodiles also use the sit-and-wait style of hunting, which is known as ambush hunting. Alligators and caimans also often stalk (stawk) their prey by swimming up ever so slowly, and then chomping on the surprised animal. Many crocodilians kill especially large prey by clamping on the animal and dragging it underwater to drown. They then bite off pieces to swallow. Sometimes, crocodilians work together when eating. Nile crocodiles, for example, will take turns holding onto a large prey animal while others wrap their jaws around part of the body and twist around to tear off pieces of flesh. For smaller prey, however, a crocodilian will simply swallow it whole. Crocodilian stomachs can digest almost anything, except items like hair, nails or claws, and turtle shells. Just as a cat coughs up hairballs, the crocodilian coughs up balls of this undigested material and spits them out.

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceDinosaurs, Snakes, and Other ReptilesAlligators Crocodiles Caimans and Gharials: Crocodylia - Physical Characteristics, Geographic Range, Habitat, Diet, Behavior And Reproduction - CROCODILIANS AND PEOPLE, CONSERVATION STATUS