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Orinoco Crocodile (Venezuelan, Colombian Crocodile)

Photo (c) J. Thorbjarnarson,

Only 250 left in the wild

Order: Crocodylia

Family: Crocodylidae

Subfamily: Crocodylinae

Genus & Species: Crocodylus intermedius


The Orinoco crocodile is South America's largest predator. The males at one time reached lengths of 23 ft (7 m), bit due to overhunting of the larger specimens the average size is now 16.6 ft (5 m). Females are generally smaller, reaching lengths of 10 ft (3.2 m). Males weigh around 950 lbs (380 kg), and females 450 lbs (200 kg).

The Orinoco crocodile is a very odd crocodile in that it has no subspecies and yet comes in three colour types. Each type has been given a name. If the crocodile is negro, then the skin is a uniform dark grey. Mariposo means that the skin is greyish-green with black dorsal patches. The third colour, amarillo, is the most common with a light, tan body with dark areas scattered throughout. In captivity it has been noted that the skin can change colours over time.

Orinoco crocodiles have long, narrow snouts containing 68 teeth. The fourth tooth on either side of the bottom jaw is larger than the other teeth and fits into a notch on the upper jaw. These two teeth can be seen when the mouth is closed. The top of the head is relatively flat, allowing for the Orinoco crocodile to be almost completely submerged underwater while still being able to see, smell, and hear. They are strong swimmers, using power thrusts of their tail and their webbed feet to propel them through the water. They are very aggressive, especially the large males.

Orinoco crocodile have symmetrical dorsal armour. They can run fast over short distances of land. They have a life span of 60-80 years.


Orinoco crocodiles can be found in the middle and lower parts of the Orinoco River in the Llanas Savannah of Venezuela and Colombia (South America). They prefer freshwater, but do have a tolerance for high salinity, as evidenced by the sighting of Orinoco crocodiles on the island of Trinidad, over 150 miles north of Venezuela, that had been washed out into the ocean by a flood and had survived. Orinoco crocodiles had at one time a much larger range, being found in tropical evergreen forests and in streams in the Andes.

Orinoco crocodiles retreat into burrows during the dry season if their section of the river dries up. They may also travel over land to find areas of water. During the dry season, large concentrations of these crocodiles could be found in one area, and was a factor in the drop of numbers in the species when hunters found them.


Juveniles feed on insects and other invertebrates as well as small fish. Larger (older) specimens will eat almost anything, including large birds, fish, small mammals, reptiles, and amphibians. They feed mainly from the water, capturing terrestrial prey only when they approach the bank. Due to their size, they can also kill and feed on humans, although this is very rare. In captivity they are fed chunks of horse and donkey meat.


Orinoco crocodiles are extremely rare; there are only between 250-700 left in the wild. In 1984 they were named as one of the top 12 most endangered animals. In 1997, Colombia did something truly shocking: they declared the Orinoco crocodile as an endangered species, the first Colombian species to be officially declared as endangered.

It is illegal to hunt Orinoco crocodiles today, but this was not so between 1930-1960, when their skin was highly sought. Almost the entire population was wiped out, and little recovery has since been made. Today, they are threatened mainly by their own limited distribution and habitat destruction. They are still hunted illegally (many collared ones raised on farms were found as trophies in hunters homes months after release). Eggs are removed to be eaten, juveniles are sold as pets, and adults are killed out of fear. Their fat is used to cure pain, their teeth are used to ward off evil spirits, and the male's penis is used as an aphrodisiac.

Juveniles are killed by foxes, snakes and hawks. Eggs are eaten by tegu lizards and vultures.


The breeding season is during the dry season (January-February). Nests are dug in the sandy bank, and anywhere from 20-70 eggs are laid. The female guards the nest for 70 days, after which the eggs hatch. Their hatching coincides with the beginning of the wet season. In captivity breeding them has become a problem as too many large males in one area spend more time fighting than mating.


There are no subspecies.