“What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?”

Recently, it has come to The Eight-Year-Old’s attention that her Mommyo doesn’t know the difference between an alligator and a crocodile. You may remember, a week or two ago, I reported that The Eight-Year-Old had spent part of her vacation cuddling a crocodile. But Mr. Cuddles, as you can clearly see, is actually an alligator.

The Eight-Year-Old with Mr. Cuddles (Photo: Barbara Howell)

The Eight-Year-Old with Mr. Cuddles (Photo: Barbara Howell)

Frankly, The Eight-Year-Old was a little embarrassed that I couldn’t tell the difference.

So she assigned me one last bit of homework before Caterpickles breaks for its August vacation.

The Eight-Year-Old, firmly: “Mommyo, you need to do a Caterpickles on telling alligators and crocodiles apart. That’s the only way you’ll ever learn it.”

The good news is that according to LiveScience, I only have to check three things, and I’ll be able to differentiate between alligators and crocodiles with the best of them:

  1. What shape is their snout? Alligator snouts are shaped like the letter U. Crocodile mouths are pointy V’s.
  2. Can I see teeth even when its mouth is closed? If yes, it’s a crocodile. The upper jaw on an alligator is wider than its lower jaw, so when an alligator closes its mouth, no teeth show.  Crocodiles, on the other hand, have wider lower jaws, which means that even when their mouth is closed, you’ll be able to see the fourth tooth on each side of their lower jaw.
  3. Is that body of water over there fresh- or salt- water?  Crocodiles tend to live near saltwater. Alligators prefer freshwater marshes and lakes.

And now I know.

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About Shala Howell

I spent two decades helping companies like Bell Labs, Juniper Networks, and a genetic testing company that was later acquired by CVS translate some of the world’s most complicated concepts into actionable, understandable English. Now I'm working on a much harder problem -- fostering children’s curiosity and engagement in the scientific, artistic, and linguistic world that surrounds them. The first book in my Caterpickles Parenting Series, What’s That, Mom?, focuses on how to use public art to nurture children’s curiosity in the world around them. My next book will focus on science, and how parents without a science degree can answer their curious child's questions without enrolling in a college level refresher course. In the meantime, you can find me blogging about life with a very curious Eleven-Year-Old at Caterpickles.com, chatting about books and the writing life at BostonWriters.blog, and tweeting about books, writing, science, & things that make me smile at @shalahowell.
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2 Responses to “What’s the difference between an alligator and a crocodile?”

  1. Pingback: Mommyo meets Mr. Cuddles  | CATERPICKLES

  2. Pingback: Caterpickles goes to the library: “How can you tell the difference between a raven and a crow?” | CATERPICKLES

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