Cuban crocodile facts
The Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer), as its name suggests, lives in Cuba. Despite its large distribution throughout Cuba in the past, its habitat is now restricted to only two locations, the Zapata Swamp and the recently found in the Lanier Swamp. Their historical range also included in the past the Cayman and Bahama islands, however it is now extinct there.
It is found in freshwater swamps and other flooded areas, but it can tolerate to some degree saltwater.
It is one of the smaller crocodiles with an average length between 2,5 and 3,5 meters, although there have been reported individuals up to 5 meters.
Among the crocodilians they are the most terrestrial, thanks to strong legs that allow them to move freely in the land with a "high walk". This species is also capable of, jumping out of the water vertically to catch the animals in the trees.
They have a very distinctive snout, which is shorter and broader than that of other crocodilians. They also have a bony ridge behind the eyes, another feature distinguishing them from other species. Their coloration is light brown with dark markings. Some black speckles can be seen on the sides of their lower jaw. They live over 70 years.
Cuban crocodile - Diet
It feeds on fish, frogs, snakes, birds and small mammals of many species, particularly the hutia or "jutía" (Capromys spp), and the Cuban slider turtle species (Trachemys decussata). Juveniles feed on arthropods and small fish. The teeth on the back of the mouth are wider than the frontal ones, an adaptation to crush turtle shells, a large part of their diet.
Cuban crocodile - Reproduction
Each male will try to attract, as many females as possible, and often they will fight among themselves. The fights are impressive, and end only when one of them gives up, beaten and sometimes badly wounded.
Females depending on the availability of materials make a mound nest or build one in a hole, at the beginning of the rainy season (May to June), where they lay between 20 and 60 eggs. Some nests can reach over 1 meter high by 2 meters wide at its base. This is done to keep them safe from flooding. The leaves, twigs and turf contained in the nest provides the warmth necessary to incubate eggs.
Something that characterizes all crocodiles and it is very marked in the Cuban crocodile species is the care they provide to their nests and their young. Throughout the duration of incubation, the female will stay close to the nest and attack ferociously anyone who comes close to it. For months, the female will escort her offspring and defend them against predators.
Cuban crocodile - Conservation status and major threats
The estimated wild population is around 3,000 to 6,000 individuals. This species was hunted almost to extinction. From the 50's and 60's, there were established farming projects, for the production of meat and skins and satisfy demand.
However none of the threats to these crocodiles have been resolved and it is still endangered. The population has decreased by 80% in the last 3 generations due to loss of habitat quality, hunting and the effects of hybridization with the American crocodile. They also face competition from the introduced Spectacled Caiman which preys on juveniles.
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