Crocodylus rhombiferCuban crocodile

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Geographic Range

The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) has the smallest range of any crocodile. It can be found only in Cuba in the Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and in the Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud.(Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).

Habitat

Cuban Crocodiles prefer fresh water marshes or swamps similar to those of the Everglades. They rarely swim in saltwater. (Britton 1995).

  • Aquatic Biomes
  • lakes and ponds
  • rivers and streams

Physical Description

Adult Cuban Crocodiles generally do not exceed 3.5 meters (10.5 feet) in length, with males being larger than females. 5 meter (15 foot) individuals have been found in the past, but are rare. The Cuban Crocodile has a short, broad head with a bony ridge located behind the eyes. Large scales from the dorsal shield extend onto the back of the neck. Scales on the legs are larger than usual and heavily keeled on the two rear legs. Coloration is darker on the top portion of the body, consisting of a pattern of black and yellow speckles. The belly of the Cuban Crocodile is pale with no distinctive markings. The tail is marked with black blotches and/or bands. Cuban Crocodiles have a total of 66-68 large teeth, especially adapted for crushing turtle shells. Feet with reduced webbing aid the Cuban Crocodile on land, enabling them to move with increased agility and power. A strong tail aids the Cuban Crocodile in both jumping and swimming. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991; CITES 2000).

Reproduction

Little is known regarding the nesting behavior of the Cuban Crocodile. Depending upon conditions (such as the availability of nesting materials) Cuban Crocodiles either dig hole nests or construct hole nests. Breeding season generally begins in May and lasts for three to four months. The amount of eggs produced depends upon the size and age of the mother. 30-40 eggs are typically produced, although as many as 60 are possible. A large number of eggs are produced to compensate for the fact that as many as 99% of hatchlings do not survive. This is due to a variety of factors, primarily predation, on both eggs and hatchling crocodiles by various mammals, reptiles,and birds. Cannibalism of young by more mature Cuban Crocodiles has also been reported. The eggs are approximately 5 cm (2 inches)-7.6 cm (3 inches) in length and weigh an average of 112 gms (0.25 lbs). The eggs typically hatch 58-70 days after they are laid. Sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest. Males occur only when internal nest temperatures are between 30-32 degrees Celcius, while females are produced in nests that are above or below these temperatures. Cuban Crocodiles often interbreed with American Crocodiles and Siamese Crocodiles (in captivity). (Benyas 1992; Alderton 1991; Britton 1995; Encyclopedia Britannica 1992; Birchard and Marcellini 1996).

  • Key Reproductive Features
  • gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Lifespan/Longevity

Behavior

Cuban Crocodiles are strong swimmers and are also adept at walking and jumping. This makes them equally at home in water or on land. Temperature control is important since they can not generate heat metabolically. They soak up heat from the sun or warm water; generally in the morning, when they are cold and groggy, or after a meal, because the heat raises their metabolisms. They generally cooperate when hunting or feeding, but still relate to each other according to a hierarchy of dominance based on gender, size and temperment.(Benyas 1992; Britton 1995; AZA 1998).

Food Habits

Juveniles of the species tend to feed on arthropods and small fish. Adult Cuban Crocodiles eat mainly fish,turtles and small mammals. Fossil records suggest that they once fed on now-extinct giant ground sloths, which may have led to the evolution of their blunt rear teeth, now used for crushing turtle shells. (Alderton 1991; Britton 1995).

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Skin is used for purses, boots, wallets, briefcases and curios. Meat is sold as a delicacy. (Ross 1989).

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

unknown

Conservation Status

The Cuban Crocodiles main threat is humans, who have hunted the crocodile extensively and have largely encroached upon their habitats. They are also threatened by competition for food and land with Caiman in the Lanier Swamps. Today, 3000-6000 Cuban Crocodiles are estimated in the wild. Because much information on the ecology and natural history of the Cuban Crocodile is still unknown, much work needs to be done to increase and protect the remaining wild population. Cuban Crocodiles are well represented in captivity in the U.S., and are continually being studied and bred in an effort to avoid their extinction. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).

Contributors

Kristen Pettit (author), Fresno City College, Carl Johansson (editor), Fresno City College.

Glossary

Neotropical

living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.

ectothermic

animals which must use heat acquired from the environment and behavioral adaptations to regulate body temperature

motile

having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.

References

1992. Reptiles. Encyclopedia Britannica. Chicago: Encyclopedia Britanica Inc..

AZA Species Survival Plan, Nov. 1, 1998. "AZA-Cuban Crocodile-Crocodylus rhombifer" (On-line). Accessed Nov. 13, 2000 at http://www.aza.org/programs/ssp/ssp.cfm?ssp=30&pub=386.

Alderton, D. 1991. Crocodiles and Alligators of the World. New York: Facts on File Publications.

Benyas, J. 1992. Beastly Behaviors. New York: Addison-Wesley Publishing Company.

Birchard, G., D. Marcellini. 1996. Incubation time in reptilian eggs. J. Zool. (London), 240: 621-635.

Britton, A. 1995. "Cuban Crocodiles" (On-line). Accessed Oct. 9, 2000 at http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/natsci/herpetology/brittoncrocs/csp_crho.htm.

CITES, Jan. 2000. "CITES 2" (On-line). Accessed November 25, 2000 at http://www.infol.it/cites/america2.html.

Ross, C. 1989. Crocodiles and Alligators.. New York: Facts on File Publication.