Alligators and crocodiles are often mistaken for one another – but there is one crucial difference. It turns out crocodiles can’t stick their tongues out, while alligators can.
Not only that but the tongue shape and position of a croc is completely different from a gator. That’s a pretty important distinction, especially if you spot a gator type creature laying beside a path out in the Everglades in Florida.
Gators can be fairly relaxed when a person walks past while a croc might snap your legs off. But why is there a difference at all? After all, aren’t the two creatures closely related?
Crocs have a membrane that holds their tongue in place on the roof of their mouth so it doesn’t move. This makes it impossible for them to stick it outside of their narrow mouths, according to the BBC. That can be handy for the reptile when snapping its jaws shut rapidly. It wouldn’t want to accidentally snap its tongue off when eating prey. The quirk is in Nile crocodiles, American crocodiles, dwarf crocodiles, and mugger crocs.
Alligator tongues meanwhile run along the full length of their snouts – which can be up to two feet long. At the back of their tongue, they have a palatal valve, which is a piece of flesh that stops water from getting in when they are submerged. It kind of acts like a seal. It also means that gators can open their mouths underwater to catch prey, according to Ben Tabley, the head of herpetology at London Zoo. And yes they can stick their tongues out.
Gators and crocs can usually be distinguished from one another with the shape of their heads. Crocodiles, which are brown, have narrow snouts while gators have a much wider nose. Crocodiles have teeth in their lower jaws that protrude when the mouth is shut. Alligators, which are typically black, meanwhile only show their upper teeth with their mouths closed. Both crocs and alligators live in freshwater but only crocodiles can lives in saltwater because they have glads that excrete salt to allow them to survive. In Florida, crocodiles are considered an endangered species while alligators are only considered a species of ‘special concern’, according to Wild Florida.