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Cuban Crocodile (Pearly Crocodile)

The smallest range of any crocodile

Order: Crocodylia

Family: Crocodylidae

Subfamily: Crocodylinae

Genus & Species: Crocodylus rhombifer


The Cuban crocodile is a rare species and closely resembles its cousin, the American crocodile. However, the Cuban crocodile is slightly smaller, reaching lengths of 16 ft (4.9 m), although 11.5 ft (3.5 m) specimens are much more common. The males are larger than the females. Another feature to distinguish them from the American crocodile are the 6-8 wide scales located on the back of the neck. Cuban crocodiles have short, broad heads, with the eyes, ears, and nostrils all on the same plane, allowing for them to see, breathe, and hear while almost completely submerged underwater. The eyes have an extra, clear eyelid known as the nictitating membrane, which allows it to see while underwater. The eyes of the juveniles have a pale iris which darkens to a dark brown with age. The teeth are large and sharp and good for tearing and crushing turtle shells, but not good for chewing. They have a total of 66-68 teeth. The fourth tooth on each side of the bottom jaw is slightly larger than the other teeth and fits into a notch on the top jaw. These two teeth can be seen when the mouth is closed. The teeth in both jaws are perfectly aligned.

The Cuban crocodile has a dorsal shield of scales on the back which extend up to the neck. The four, squat legs are strong and are covered in large scales. The rear legs have larger, heavily keeled scales. The tail is strong and powerful and the feet have reduced webbing, both features which aid it on the land and in the water.

Cuban crocodiles are sprinkled black and yellow, leading to their other name of pearly crocodile.

Cuban crocodiles have a life span of up to 100 years. Behaviourally, they are always dominant over American crocodiles despite their diminutive size.


The Cuban crocodile has the smallest known natural habitat of any crocodile. At one time they could be found throughout the Cuba, Cayman, and Bahama Islands. Today, they are restricted to 300 km square in Cuba in the Zapata swamp, and 100 km square in the Lanier Swamp on the Isla de la Juventud (Isle of Pines).

They seem to prefer freshwater marshes similar to that of the Florida Everglades, and will not swim in saltwater. They are adept swimmers, but also walk quite well on land.

Cuban crocodiles control their body temperatures by staying in the warm water at night and sunbathing on the land during the day. 100 hybrids of the Cuban crocodile and Siamese crocodile are in captivity throughout Vietnam.


Cuban crocodile juveniles feed on arthropods and small fish. The a dults feed on anything they can overpower, including fish, turtles, and small mammals. The fossil record indicates that at one time they also fed on giant ground sloths. The teeth are specially adapted for crushing turtle shells. Their body is also specially adapted for hunting on land, including strong rear legs which give them amazing jumping capabilities. They are just as acrobatic in the water, using powerful thrusts of the tail to leap from the water and snatch prey from the branches above.


The Cuban crocodile is an endangered species, but not because it has many enemies. It is endangered because of its small geographic location. Their main threat is humans, who hunted them extensively in the centuries past. Today there is a trade in captive, farm-raised Cuban crocodile skins. They are also sold to be made into various curios and for the white meat of their tail, which is considered a delicacy.

In the wild there are an estimated 3000-6000 Cuban crocodiles in the Zapata swamp. These crocodiles are still being threatened, not by hunting but by habitat encroachment. Their land is being turned into agricultural and charcoal-burning industries. In the Lanier swamps they are threatened by competition for food and land with the introduced spectacled caiman, another crocodilian species. Hybridization with American or Siamese crocodiles also reduce the numbers of pure Cuban crocodiles.


Little is known about their breeding habits; there is still confusion on how they make their nests! It is thought that they make either mound nests or hole nests in the peat or soil, depending on the conditions. The breeding season begins around May and ends a few months later. They lay between 30-60 eggs, which incubate for 58-70 days before hatching. Because the beginning of their breeding season coincides with the end of the American crocodile breeding season, hybridization between the species may occur. They will also mate with Siamese crocodiles in captivity. The hybrids are fertile.


The Cuban crocodile has no subspecies, just two hybrids. They are related to the 22 other species of crocodilians.


5. csp_crho.htm
6. Funk and Wangnall's Wildlife Encyclopedia "Alligator" vol 1, pg 29, 1974, BPC Pub Ltd, NY NY, USA
7. "Cuban Crocodile" Animal Card, 1977