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Facts About the Dwarf Crocodile

Kulbhushaan Raghuvanshi
The dwarf crocodile is the smallest member of the crocodile family. Due to their small size, they move slowly in comparison to other large crocodiles on land, but are as aggressive as any other crocodile species. They primarily hunt at night, and spend their day relaxing in stream-side burrows. Let's get to know a little bit more about this crocodile.

Did You Know?

Dwarf crocodiles possess extra flaps of skin which cover their windpipe when they are underwater. These flaps stop water from entering the windpipe when they open their mouth to catch prey.
In addition to its small size, the most distinctive feature of the dwarf crocodile is its short broad snout, and heavily armored scales that cover its entire body. These protective scales aren't found in other large crocodiles.
Due to these physical aspects, the dwarf crocodile is known by many names, including Broad-Snouted Crocodile, Black Crocodile, and Bony Crocodile.
These species are further divided in two categories: the West African Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis tetraspis), and the Congo Dwarf Crocodile (Osteolaemus tetraspis osborni). Both these subspecies are distinguished by their physical appearance and behavior.

Classification of the Dwarf Crocodile

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Sauropsida

Order: Crocodilia

Family: Crocodylidae

Genus: Osteolaemus

Distribution and Habitat

These crocodiles can only be found in the regions of West and Central Africa - Congo, Gambia, Ghana, Cameroon, Guinea, Nigeria, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
However, the numbers vary significantly along these regions. As mentioned before, dwarf crocodiles prefer living in permanent swamps and rainforest rivers.

Anatomy and Appearance

The dwarf crocodile grows to almost 1.6 meters in length, but wildlife experts have also reported spotting members reaching a length of 1.9 meters.
Adults weigh between 45 to 70 pounds. The heavily-armored crocodile features a black back, with yellow sides and underbelly. The armored scales don't just protect the animal from injury, they also protect the skin from sunburn.
The eyes and nostrils are located on the top of the head, enabling the crocodile to keep a watch for both its prey and predator. Adult dwarf crocodiles can hold their breath for at least an hour underwater.


The dwarf crocodile is a carnivore, and primarily hunts smaller animals.
It prefers eating fish, frogs, toad, birds, rats, and crustaceans. It can also eat carrion in times of food shortage. As the dwarf crocodile is unable to chew its own food, it uses its strong jaw to kill the prey, and devour it immediately to swallow it whole.
Their old teeth are replaced by new ones after regular intervals. They are also known to change their diet according to seasons. For example, during the wet season they primarily feed on fish, but as the dry season approaches, they turn their attention to crustaceans.

Reproduction and Breeding

The breeding season lasts from May to June, during which a male will mate with multiple females who occupy his territory. Adults become sexually mature between 5 to 6 years. Females breed once a year, and lay 10 to 20 eggs.
They usually build their nest around water, and it consists of wet, decaying vegetation that keep the eggs warm as time passes. The incubation period lasts 3 months, during which females guard their eggs fiercely. After the eggs hatch, the young ones call out to their mother, and she carefully picks them out from the nest.
The mother carefully carries the young ones in her jaws, and releases them in water. Although the young ones become independent quickly, some of them stay close to the mother for safety.

Predators and Threat

Despite being a ferocious predator, the dwarf crocodile is an easy target for its bigger cousins due to its small size. Juvenile crocodiles and eggs are hunted by various birds, large animals, and reptiles. However, the biggest threat to this beautiful reptile is man.
Extensive deforestation has resulted in habitat destruction, forcing them to move to dry land, making them easy targets for poachers and locals who hunt them for their skin and meat.
The IUCN currently lists the dwarf crocodile as a vulnerable species. There are approximately 35,000 to 100,000 members left in the wild. Certain African regions still boast an impressive number; however, population has been affected severely due to human interference in their habitat.