Environment
Fact-checked

At WiseGEEK, we're committed to delivering accurate, trustworthy information. Our expert-authored content is rigorously fact-checked and sourced from credible authorities. Discover how we uphold the highest standards in providing you with reliable knowledge.

Learn more...

Why Can Alligators Stick Their Tongues Out, But Not Crocodiles?

Most people know that alligators and crocodiles are different but would likely struggle to explain what makes these large, semiaquatic reptiles distinct. There are several characteristics that can help differentiate these crocodilians. While crocodiles are brown and have narrow snouts, alligators are usually black and have wider noses. The teeth in the lower jaw of a crocodile can be seen when their mouths are closed, whereas only the upper teeth of an alligator can be seen when their jaws are closed.

Another physical trait that distinguishes one from the other is the tongue. While alligators are capable of sticking their tongues out, crocodiles are not. Unlike an alligator, a crocodile has a membrane that keeps its tongue on the roof of its mouth, inhibiting movement. This ensures that crocodiles won't bite off their own tongues when snapping their powerful jaws closed. Additionally, because crocodiles spend so much time underwater, the membrane helps to keep the throat closed, protecting the croc's airway.

Unlike alligators, a crocodile has a membrane that keeps its tongue on the roof of its mouth so it doesn’t move.
Unlike alligators, a crocodile has a membrane that keeps its tongue on the roof of its mouth so it doesn’t move.

Unlike many animal species, a crocodile does not use its tongue for feeding but rather swallows its prey whole or in a series of crushing bites, tossing its head back to get the food in the correct position. They also swallow stones to help grind their food in their stomach.

Conversely, an alligator's tongue extends along the full length of its snout, measuring up to two feet (0.61 m). When an alligator goes underwater, it can close a valve at the back of its tongue (known as a palatal valve) to prevent water from getting into its airway. This enables the alligator to open its mouth and catch prey while underwater.

Croc and gator facts:

  • While alligators and crocodiles can both live in fresh and brackish water, only crocodiles can live in saltwater environments. This is because crocodiles have special glands that excrete excess salt, located at the back of the tongue.

  • There are only two species of alligator: the Chinese alligator, found in eastern China, and the American alligator, which inhabits wetlands in the southeastern United States. The 18 crocodile species have a wide geographic distribution, covering Central and South America, the Caribbean, and parts of Africa, Asia, and Australia. The Florida Everglades is the only place where crocodiles and alligators naturally coexist.

  • Crocodiles tend to be larger than alligators. The largest crocs can grow to more than 22 feet (6.7 m) in length and weigh up to 2,200 pounds (998 kg). A saltwater crocodile’s teeth can exceed four inches (10.16 cm) long!

  • A crocodile’s tongue helps regulate its body temperature. Crocs are often seen with their mouths open while basking in the sun. One of the reasons they do this is to help prevent them from overheating.

You might also Like

Discuss this Article

Post your comments
Login:
Forgot password?
Register:
    • Unlike alligators, a crocodile has a membrane that keeps its tongue on the roof of its mouth so it doesn’t move.
      By: stuporter
      Unlike alligators, a crocodile has a membrane that keeps its tongue on the roof of its mouth so it doesn’t move.