Morelet's Crocodile

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Morelet's Crocodile

Crocodylus moreletii

ListedJune 2, 1970
DescriptionLight scaling on the hind legs; color is dull, predominantly greyish brown with some darker markings; has especially fine belly skin.
HabitatFreshwater lagoons, streams, and backwaters in heavily forested regions.
FoodSmall aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as small mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, crabs, and domestic animals.
ReproductionClutch of 20-40 eggs after incubation of about 80 days.
ThreatsCommercial hunting combined with habitat loss.
RangeCentral America (from Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Belize and Guatemala)


Morelet's crocodile, Crocodylus moreletii, is a small crocodilian species with a record length of 11.5 ft (3.5 m). Although it appears similar to the Cuban crocodile, it has distinctive features, including pale silvery brown irises compared to the darker irises in the Cuban species. It also has much lighter scaling on the hind legs, and C. moreletii 's color is duller, predominantly greyish brown with some darker markings. It has especially fine belly skin. Because the belly skin lacks osteoderms, it is prized for its commercial potential. Morelet's crocodile was collected and described by Morelet in 1851. In 1919, Thomas Barbour observed that the snail acquired by Morelet from the type specimen had been incorrectly ascribed as coming from the Yucatan (Guatemala) when in fact that species originated in Cuba. So, C. moreletii was, for a time, considered to be synonymous with the Cuban crocodile, C. rhombifer, and the American crocodile, C. acutus, until it was shown to be distinct by Karl Schmidt in 1924.


Morelet's crocodile eats small aquatic vertebrates and invertebrates, as well as small mammals, birds, fishes, reptiles, crabs, and domestic animals. It has been reported that it allows killed prey to decompose before eating it. The female builds nest mounds where she lays 20-40 eggs. Oviposition occurs before the annual rainy season, and incubation lasts for about 80 days. There is some evidence to suggest that nest sharing occurs. One nest was observed to have 70 eggs, probably laid by two females. Both parents guard the nest and the young after they hatch. Observation of captive animals reveals that females respond to hatchling vocalizations and open the nests when the young are ready to emerge. Occasionally, the mother will kill older juveniles who attempt to cannibalize the nest. During the dry season, when water levels fall, adults may burrow into the banks and remain there until the rains return. C. moreletii overlaps with C. acutus throughout the southern portion of its range, but the habitat relationship between these two species is not known.


C. moreletii prefers freshwater lagoons, streams, and backwaters in heavily forested regions with floating plant life. However, it does occur in marshes, swamps, pools, and lagoons, and sometimes in brackish water.


Morelet's crocodile occurred throughout Central America from Tamaulipas, Mexico, to Belize and Guatemala. Populations were greatly reduced during the 1940s and 1950s due to uncontrolled hide hunting. Populations are considered depleted throughout the species' range in Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala. However, some populations, such as those in the Lacandon forest and the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Preserve in Mexico are healthy.


As with most crocodiles, commercial hunting combined with habitat loss caused the decline of C. moreletii. During the 1940s, merchants reported buying as many as 1,000 hides a day in the Villahermosa market (in Tabasco, Mexico). The species was hunted to extinction throughout much of its range, such as the Los Tuxtlas region of Vera Cruz. When the species was abundant, hunters would take only a portion of the population, but as the species became scarce, hunters took any individuals they could find and the breeding population was decimated.

Conservation and Recovery

Crocodiles are legally protected in all three countries of Morelet's range. The governments are moving toward developing sustainable programs that will permit the taking of excess populations. In Mexico, a number of commercial farming operations have started, including one outside the species' range. This has caused some problems when C. moreletii has escaped and started breeding populations that compete with C. acutus. Captive breeding programs have been established in Zoo Atlanta and the Houston Zoo, as well as in the Chipas and Tuxtla Guiterrez Zoos in Mexico.


Instituto Nacional de Ecología
Av. Revolución, 1425
Col. Campestre, C.P. 01040, Mexico, D.F.


Britton, Adam. 2000. "Crocodilian SpeciesMorelet's Crocodile (Crocodylus moreletii )." Florida Museum of Natural History. [Accessed 3 August 2000].

Platt, S. 1994. "Crocolylus moreletii and Crocodylus acutus in Belize." Crocodile Specialist Group Newsletter 13(4): 15-16.

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Morelet's Crocodile

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