The Cuban Crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) has the smallest range of any crocodile. It can be found only in Cuba in the Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and in the Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud.(Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).
Biogeographic Regions: neotropical (Native )
Distribution: Cuba (Zapata Swamp in the northwest, and possibly Lanier Swamp on Isla de Juventud)
Type locality: Unknown; attributed to Cuba by Duméril and Bibron (1836: 101).
Adult Cuban Crocodiles generally do not exceed 3.5 meters (10.5 feet) in length, with males being larger than females. 5 meter (15 foot) individuals have been found in the past, but are rare. The Cuban Crocodile has a short, broad head with a bony ridge located behind the eyes. Large scales from the dorsal shield extend onto the back of the neck. Scales on the legs are larger than usual and heavily keeled on the two rear legs. Coloration is darker on the top portion of the body, consisting of a pattern of black and yellow speckles. The belly of the Cuban Crocodile is pale with no distinctive markings. The tail is marked with black blotches and/or bands. Cuban Crocodiles have a total of 66-68 large teeth, especially adapted for crushing turtle shells. Feet with reduced webbing aid the Cuban Crocodile on land, enabling them to move with increased agility and power. A strong tail aids the Cuban Crocodile in both jumping and swimming. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991; CITES 2000).
Other Physical Features: ectothermic ; bilateral symmetry
Habitat and Ecology
Cuban Crocodiles prefer fresh water marshes or swamps similar to those of the Everglades. They rarely swim in saltwater. (Britton 1995).
Aquatic Biomes: lakes and ponds; rivers and streams
Juveniles of the species tend to feed on arthropods and small fish. Adult Cuban Crocodiles eat mainly fish,turtles and small mammals. Fossil records suggest that they once fed on now-extinct giant ground sloths, which may have led to the evolution of their blunt rear teeth, now used for crushing turtle shells. (Alderton 1991; Britton 1995).
Life History and Behavior
Status: captivity: 12.8 years.
Status: captivity: 18.3 years.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Little is known regarding the nesting behavior of the Cuban Crocodile. Depending upon conditions (such as the availability of nesting materials) Cuban Crocodiles either dig hole nests or construct hole nests. Breeding season generally begins in May and lasts for three to four months. The amount of eggs produced depends upon the size and age of the mother. 30-40 eggs are typically produced, although as many as 60 are possible. A large number of eggs are produced to compensate for the fact that as many as 99% of hatchlings do not survive. This is due to a variety of factors, primarily predation, on both eggs and hatchling crocodiles by various mammals, reptiles,and birds. Cannibalism of young by more mature Cuban Crocodiles has also been reported. The eggs are approximately 5 cm (2 inches)-7.6 cm (3 inches) in length and weigh an average of 112 gms (0.25 lbs). The eggs typically hatch 58-70 days after they are laid. Sex of the hatchlings is determined by the temperature of the nest. Males occur only when internal nest temperatures are between 30-32 degrees Celcius, while females are produced in nests that are above or below these temperatures. Cuban Crocodiles often interbreed with American Crocodiles and Siamese Crocodiles (in captivity). (Benyas 1992; Alderton 1991; Britton 1995; Encyclopedia Britannica 1992; Birchard and Marcellini 1996).
Key Reproductive Features: gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
- 1996Endangered (EN)
- 1994Endangered (E)
- 1990Endangered (E)
- 1988Endangered (E)
- 1986Endangered (E)
- 1982Endangered (E)
The Cuban Crocodiles main threat is humans, who have hunted the crocodile extensively and have largely encroached upon their habitats. They are also threatened by competition for food and land with Caiman in the Lanier Swamps. Today, 3000-6000 Cuban Crocodiles are estimated in the wild. Because much information on the ecology and natural history of the Cuban Crocodile is still unknown, much work needs to be done to increase and protect the remaining wild population. Cuban Crocodiles are well represented in captivity in the U.S., and are continually being studied and bred in an effort to avoid their extinction. (Britton 1995; Alderton 1991).
CITES: appendix i
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: critically endangered
Date Listed: 06/02/1970
Lead Region: Foreign (Region 10)
Where Listed: Entire
Population location: Entire
Listing status: E
For most current information and documents related to the conservation status and management of Crocodylus rhombifer , see its USFWS Species Profile
Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems
Skin is used for purses, boots, wallets, briefcases and curios. Meat is sold as a delicacy. (Ross 1989).
The Cuban crocodile has numerous characteristics that set it apart from other crocodilians, such as its brighter adult colors, rougher, more 'pebbled' scales, and long, strong legs. This is a small to mid-sized crocodilian. Typical adults were found to have measured 2.1–2.3 m (6.9–7.5 ft) in length and to have weighed 70–80 kg (150–180 lb). Large males can reach as much as 3.5 m (11 ft) in length and weigh 215 kg (474 lb) or more.
Distribution and habitat
Today, the Cuban crocodile can only be found in Cuba's Zapata Swamp and the Isle of Youth, and it is highly endangered. It formerly ranged elsewhere in the Caribbean. Fossils of this species have been found in the Cayman Islands and the Bahamas.
Biology and behavior
This species has been observed to display interesting behavior that other crocodilians do not. A colony of this species at Gatorland, Florida, has exhibited what is strongly suspected to be pack-hunting behavior, which may explain the predation of prehistoric megafauna that coexisted with this species, such as the giant sloth. The behavior has prompted much interest in the species, usually kept singly (especially so after such reports). This species is also the most terrestrial of crocodiles, and also possibly the most intelligent.
Hunting and diet
Small fish, arthropods, and crustaceans make up the diet of young Cuban crocodiles. Adults of the species feed mostly upon small mammals, fish, and turtles. They have blunt rear teeth, which aid in crushing the shells of their turtle prey. Cuban crocodiles also demonstrate the jumping feeding technique seen in other crocodilians such as the American alligator. By thrusting with their powerful tails, they can leap from the water and snatch small animals from overhanging branches. The Cuban crocodile, while not a particularly large species, is often regarded as the most aggressive New World crocodile and is behaviorally dominant over the larger American crocodile in areas where the two species coexist. Data regarding attacks on humans are limited, but occurrences are likely rare given the species' very small distribution area and separation from human populations. However, captive specimens show aggression towards their keepers, a behavior displayed at Gatorland.
The mating season of the Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) is between the months of May and July. This is thought to be related to environmental changes, such as rainfall and temperature. In the wild, crocodiles will nest in wet marshes; where they will create trenches and cover the eggs with organic material. In captivity, crocodiles will create mounds. During the nesting period the Cuban crocodiles will lay between 30-40 eggs and the estimated incubation period is 58–70 days. Hatching can occur from late August to early September. Due to the predation of humans, raccoon's, and other animals; many eggs will not hatch. At birth, hatchlings are approximately 2-3 inches in length, and are 1/4th of a pound in weight. As with other crocodillians the sex of the Cuban crocodile’s offspring is determined by the temperature in the nest. In conservations, the eggs are kept in incubators that provide a constant environment of 32 degrees Celsius in order to produce males. Cuban crocodiles are an aggressive species and are known to have performed acts of cannibalism. This is a contributing cause for the majority of offspring not surviving to the juvenile stage. In 2012, two Cuban crocodile hatchlings were born in conservation at the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. This was the first time in 25 years that the Cuban crocodile had been successfully bred at this zoo.
The Cuban crocodile is a critically endangered species, listed on CITES appendix 1. Its restricted habitat and range make it very vulnerable. Humans have hunted this species to near extinction. Much research remains to be done on the remaining wild populations. The species is represented in captivity in Europe and the United States, where breeding projects are taking place. Problems in the past with hybridisation have occurred, especially with the American crocodile, which limits the pure gene pool of this species.
- Targarona, R. R.; Soberón, R. R.; Cotayo, L.; Tabet, M. A.; Thorbjarnarson, J. (1996). "Crocodylus rhombifer". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 2014-04-10.
- Morgan, Gary; Franz, Richard & Ronald Crombie (1993). "The Cuban Crocodile, Crocodylus rhombifer, from Late Quaternary Fossil Deposits on Grand Cayman". Caribbean Journal of Science 29 (3–4): 153–164.
- Franz, Richard; Morgan, G, Albury, N & Buckner, S (1995). "Fossil skeleton of a Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer) from a blue hole on Abaco, Bahamas". Caribbean Journal of Science 31 (1–2): 149–152.
- Steadman, D. W. et al. (2007-12-11). "Exceptionally well preserved late Quaternary plant and vertebrate fossils from a blue hole on Abaco, The Bahamas". PNAS 104 (50): 19897–19902. doi:10.1073/pnas.0709572104. PMC 2148394. PMID 18077421.
- National Zoo
- Alexander, Marc (2006-01-01). "Last of the Cuban crocodile?". Americas (English Edition) (Organization of American States). ISSN 0379-0940. Retrieved 2010-07-09.
- University of Florida
- Kristen, P. (2001). Crocodylus Rhombifer. Retrieved from Animal Diversity Web : .http://animaldiversity.ummz.umich.edu/accounts/Crocodylus_rhombifer/
- Ramos Taragon, R. S. (2010). Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer). In S. M. C.Stevenson, Crocodiles Status Survery and Conservation Action Plan (pp. 114-118). Crocodile Specialist Group : Darwin .
- Press., A. (2012, July 20). After decades, Cuban Crocodiles Born At D.C Zoo. Retrieved from CBS Baltimore: http://baltimore.cbslocal.com/2012/07/20/after-decades-cuban-crocodiles-born-at-dc-zoo/
- Weaver, J. P.; Rodriguez, D.; Venegas-Anaya, M.; Cedeño-Vázquez, J. R.; Forstner, M. R. J.; Densmore, L. D. III (2008). "Genetic characterization of captive Cuban crocodiles (Crocodylus rhombifer) and evidence of hybridization with the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus)". Journal of Experimental Zoology Part A: Ecological Genetics and Physiology 309A (10): 649–660. doi:10.1002/jez.471.
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