If you don’t know by now, I work at a zoo. This month, my team gets the exciting opportunity to welcome a new animal to our care: a West African Dwarf Crocodile. My manager asked me to create a fact sheet about dwarf crocodiles, so I thought I’d share my findings with you!
There is one problem, though. There’s not a lot of research done on Dwarf Crocodiles. They are actually one of the least studied species in the world. Sure, I could see what other zoos say about Dwarf Crocodiles, but I was warned not all zoos check their facts. Dwarf Crocodiles are the smallest crocodile species. They only get from 4.9 to 5 feet long fully grown. They are threatened/vulnerable conservation wise. You see, Dwarf Crocodiles live in West Africa in swamp and rainforest environments. They’ve even been known to live in pools on the savannah. And, because they’re so small, they’re a little easier to trap and transport than other crocodiles. Hunters often use dwarf crocodiles as bushmeat and they are facing habitat loss with the expansion of human populations in Africa.
I was able to find some studies on dwarf crocodiles that focus on their nesting behaviors. Dwarf crocodiles can lay 7-10 eggs per clutch. Females will make nests made out of decomposing vegetation to help keep the eggs warm as they incubate. It’s takes about 89-110 days for the eggs to hatch. They are vulnerable in the nest as well. Destruction to the nest by natural causes can harm the eggs or they can be preyed upon by predators like the West African Nile Monitor. The mother will guard the nest to the best of her abilities and she listens for the cries of her hatchlings after they hatch. Dwarf crocodiles are pretty independent at birth, but their mother will carry them to the rivers to get them going. These crocodiles won’t reach maturity until 5-6 years old.
As for their diet, dwarf crocodiles mostly eat invertebrates. As the smallest species of crocodiles, they can’t go after large antelope or zebra. So, dwarf crocodiles will go after crustaceans like crabs, fish, small mammals like rodents, lizards, snakes, frogs, and even bugs. They’re silent hunters and a nocturnal species. Like all crocodilians, their eyes and nose are on the top of their head to help them peek out of the water just enough to spot their prey without being noticed.
How long they live isn’t known. Sure, we could start a study of how long dwarf crocodiles live in captivity. We do know the age of the new dwarf crocodile at my zoo, but animals in captivity naturally live longer since they don’t have to worry about predators, hunting, and they get free health care when they’re sick or injured. We wouldn’t get an accurate estimate from the wild.
Hopefully, the dwarf crocodile will get further researched and protected from trappers. If I find out more information, I’ll happily share it with you! A great way to learn and push for knowledge about different species is to support your local zoo. A lot of the proceeds go toward conservation and you can even donate to support conservation as well. Zookeepers love the animals they take care of and if they’re presented with a question they don’t know the answer to, they’ll research it. If they can’t find the answer, they go to someone they think will, and if that person can’t find the answer, well, that’s how studies can start. So, keep being curious about the different animal species out there. Because every one deserves to be understood and protected.