Cuban crocodile (Crocodylus rhombifer)

French: Crocodile De Cuba
Spanish: Cocodrilo De Cuba
GenusCrocodylus (1)
SizeLength: 3.5 m (3)
Weight130 kg (2)

Classified as Critically Endangered (CR) on the IUCN Red List (1), and listed on Appendix I of CITES (4).

The Cuban crocodile is one of the most threatened New World crocodilians (5) (a group that includes alligators, caimans and the gharial). It is medium sized with a short, broad head and high bony ridges behind each eye; in large adults there is a medial ridge running between the eyes towards the snout (6). Toes are short and lack webbing, indicative of a species that spends more time on land compared with most other crocodilian species (2). Both juveniles and adults have a sprinkled black and yellow pattern on their back and are sometimes known as 'pearly' crocodiles for this reason (6).

The Cuban crocodile has the smallest known natural distribution of any living crocodilian and is today found primarily in two areas of Cuba; the Zapata Swamp in the northwest of the country and Lanier Swamp on the Isla de Juventud (5).

Inhabits freshwater swamps (6).

The breeding season generally begins in May and although females normally dig hole-nests in the wild, they are capable of building mound-nests under certain conditions; the average clutch size is 30 to 40 eggs (6). In the wild, individuals can interbreed with the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) whose breeding season overlaps with that of the Cuban crocodile (6). This hybridisation appears to be natural but may pose a threat to the genetic purity of this species if population numbers fall. The changing nesting strategies may reflect evidence of hybridisation (5).

Cuban crocodiles have broad back teeth that are adapted to crushing turtle shells, which enables these crocodiles to get to their main source of food (6). Fish and mammals are also consumed and historically this species appears to have preyed on the, now extinct, giant sloth (6). Possessing strong hind legs, this crocodilian is particularly agile on land, able to move quickly and leap into the air (6).

The Cuban crocodile is highly vulnerable due to the restricted nature of its distribution (5). Habitat destruction continues to encroach on the marshes where this species is found and competition with introduced and hybrid species poses further threats to survival (5).

Recent reports indicated that population numbers of the Cuban crocodile are showing signs of recovery; the population in the Zapata swamp is estimated at between 3,000 and 6,000 individuals (6). Active measures are underway to ensure this population remains well protected but a further important conservation priority is the establishment of an alternative wild population (5). In the 1950s to 60s, thousands of Cuban crocodiles were taken into captivity to be farmed for their skins and the population of captive animals is today substantial, one farm has recently been given CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) approval to trade internationally (6).

For more information on the Cuban crocodile see:


Authenticated (06/05/03) by Adam Britton,

  1. IUCN Red List (December, 2008)
  2. Animal Diversity Web (May, 2002)$narrative.html
  3. Braziatis, P. (1973) The identification of living crocodilians. Zoologica, 58: 59 - 101.
  4. CITES (December, 2008)
  5. Ross, R.P. (1998) Crocodiles: Status Survey and Conservation Action Plan. Second Edition. IUCN/SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, IUCN, Gland, Switzerland and Cambridge, UK. Available at:
  6. Crocodilian Species List: Crocodylus rhombifer (May, 2002)