Despite being entirely different animals (sharing the order Crocodilia, but not a family), people often wonder about the difference between crocodiles and alligators. After all, they appear to be very similar. To the untrained eye, both look like prehistoric swamp lizards, but there are some tricks you can use so you don’t make a faux pas the next time you’re in Florida.
The quickest way to tell the two reptiles apart is by their smile: In both animals’ lower jaws, they have a long tooth on either side. When crocodiles close their mouths, you can see these long teeth protrude from their faces. Alligators, on the other hand, slip them into sockets in their upper jaw. As a general rule, the toothier the crocodilian, the more likely it is a crocodile.
Crocodile snout, iStock
Other things to look for include head shape and skin color. Crocodiles tend to have V-shaped faces, while alligators sport shorter, U-shaped snouts. Gators also have darker, greener skin than their tannish brown counterparts.