Deep in the swampy forests of West Africa, lies the dwarf crocodile, a miniature version of their large crocodile relatives. The crocodiles are so tiny they are not hunted for their skin, but for food. This has resulted in fewer of them remaining in their natural habitat. Will they become extinct?
The Little Crocodiles
Living in both terrestrial and freshwater ecosystems, the West African dwarf crocodile is five and a half to six feet in length. Built more like a smaller version of crocodiles of normal size, they are darker in color with a yellowish belly. Black patches cover their reptilian bodies, from the end of their tails to the blunt snout. The baby dwarf crocs are lighter brown with patterns sprawled out over the head.
Dwarfs are at home in the areas of West Africa such as the Congo, Cote d’lvoire, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Togo, Angola, Benin, Burkina, Faso, Cameroon and the Central African Republic. Most will nest in the swamps. Standing bodies of water are their favorite places to hang out, however they are sometimes found in savanna habitats to dig burrows or they dig hideouts underneath tree roots. The dwarf crocodile species needs to cool down after basking in the sun to heat up and stay warmer.
Dwarf Croc's Cuisine
These compact crocs consume fish, crustaceans and frogs, however, they will make meals of terrestrial animals, such as mice. Food sources will change with the seasons depending on the abundance of the various edible creatures. During the dryer season of Africa, they can be seen scooting around on land, searching for their next meal. The crocs fall under the category of carnivores.
As with the larger crocodile relatives, the dwarf crocodile has impressive jaw power to slam down on their prey with a powerful force, although they cannot bite off pieces and chew their prey. The jaw is set up for eating in larger amounts at one time, without the smaller jaw motions to consume the tinier bites. The side-to-side motion doesn't exist, although the powerful up and down movements seem to feed the crocodiles just fine.
Dwarf Crocodile Breeding Facts
Pulling clumps of rotting vegetation into a pile during the wetter season, the mother dwarf crocodile creates a compost heap, which works as an incubator to supply the eggs with warmth. One time a year, the female will breed, laying 10 to 20 eggs at a time. The mother guards the nest viciously until the hatching begins after a period of 85-105 days.
When the babies hatch, their mother escorts them into the water, ensuring their safety. Some babies may even stay with their mother for a period of a few weeks. Baby crocs stay in touch with their mom, even though she allows them the freedom to leave. From a distance, a strange twangy sound can be heard from the baby crocodiles. This sound is a form of communication from the tiny crocodiles, apparently to keep their mother informed of their location.
Habits and Facts
The African dwarf crocodile stay in shallower swamp waters, however they can swim quite well. They rely strictly on their tails for power, as do the larger crocodiles. Walking and even galloping on land is no problem for the crocs, to maintain speed even on dry ground. The dwarf crocodile is a solitary animal.
Other reptiles have two chambers in the heart while crocodiles have four.
Remaining in the burrows during the daylight hours, the smaller crocs come out to eat at night.
They hunt in the water, sliding along the banks in search for food. When the dry season rolls around, at least for the crocs living in the savanna areas, spending longer amounts of time in the burrows is common.
Extinction and Population of the Crocodiles
The dwarf crocodile species is vulnerable to changes in habitat and to the hunting habits of man. The crocs are often killed for food and due to this, they are categorized as a vulnerable species in the wild. In some places, the crocs are more abundant and higher in numbers, however they are diminishing in numbers in regions such as Gambia. Breeding programs exist in zoos to push the numbers of this species back up into safer numbers.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists the dwarf crocodile as "vulnerable". The population is decreasing, showing an obvious threat of extinction in Gambia and Liberia because of the hunting activities of local residents and the habitat destruction of the area. The smaller size makes the crocodile an easy target, along with the non-aggressive nature of the crocodiles, they are easier to capture and transport.
The international trade of the species is controlled and captive breeding is considered to keep the species at full numbers. Monitoring systems are being created at high priority status to clearly record the status of the West African dwarf crocodile as well.