Crocodiles and Alligators
by Rita Goldner
As a kid, I didn’t have many books to read at home. My parents were avid readers, and owned collections of Shakespeare and the works of Rudyard Kipling, but not his children’s classics. Having six kids and a limited budget meant few children’s books. The public library was a favorite haunt of mine, and I remember the anthropomorphicfirst time I ventured to walk there by myself. I was very young, and it was a long walk, but kids in those days had a lot more freedom; parents weren’t afraid to let them out alone like they are today (probably with good reason). The first book I ever signed out by myself was a picture book about the differences between alligators and crocodiles. Even that far back, I was a naturalist, very intrigued by wildlife.
Now I have a book for adults on the same subject, and one of the characters in my work-in-progress book, Rhonda’s Great Big Feet, is a crocodile. In the process of creating the character, my reference photos are helping my illustration process with details like color and foot shape. For body composition and positioning of limbs, however, I have to wing it, because this particular character is doing a back-stroke down the river, in a synchronized swim with one leg lifted, perpendicular to his body. (In case that isn’t challenging enough, the next illustration is a rhinoceros in a ballet pirouette.) You don’t find a lot of animals in nature in these poses for photo references. Even though my poses are anthropomorphic, I feel the closer I can get to natural body proportions, the funnier the illustration.
Here are some fun facts I learned while researching my new character:
- Crocodiles have been around for at least 240 million years
- The smallest dwarf crocodiles are less than 5 feet, and the largest saltwater crocs are longer than 20 feet.
- They eat only meat. They have 24 sharp teeth but can’t chew. They rip prey apart and swallow it whole.
- They swallow stones to grind up the food in their stomachs and act as ballast.
- The temperature of a crocodile’s nest determines whether the eggs will develop into males or females. For the eggs to hatch into male crocs, the temperature needs to be 31.6 degrees Celsius. If the temperature is higher or lower, females will hatch.
- 99% of croc babies are taken by predators within the first year.
- In the wild, they live to 50 or 60 years, and some even make it to 80 years.
While crocs are found all over the globe, alligators are only in China and America. You can tell the difference one of two ways: (1) by color – they’re black, while crocs are grey-green; (2) by snout shape – an alligator’s snout is broad, while the croc’s is narrow and pointed. Both eat meat and fruit, and rarely attack humans.
The really weird thing is that although the nest temperature also affects the sex of alligator hatchlings, the effect is actually different from that in a croc’s nest. If an alligator nest is 31 degrees Celsius, an equal number of males and females will be born. If it is warmer than 33 degrees Celsius, they’ll all be males. If it’s below 28 degrees Celsius, you’ll get all females.
Wild animals’ evolution and adaptations fascinate me, which explains why I am always going down endless rabbit holes in my research – and reading way more than I have to. I’ll get this book finished yet, but it’ll take some discipline and time management!
Thanks, and comments welcome!
References for this blog:
Rita Goldner is the author and illustrator of the children’s picture book, Orangutan: A Day in the Rainforest Canopy. Rita has also written and illustrated two eBooks, Jackson’s History Adventure and Jackson’s Aviation Adventure, in the Jackson’s Adventure series. For orangutan facts and images and to purchase the book (also available as an ebook), visit OrangutanDay.com. Or by the Kindle version here. Rita’s newest book, Making Marks on the World: A Storybook for Left- and Right-Handed Coloring, is available for purchase here. Works in progress: H2O Rides the Water Cycle, The Flying Artist, and Rose Colored. To view additional illustrations and Rita’s books in progress, visit Rita’s website. Contact Rita here. Follow Rita on Facebook. Subscribe to Rita’s newsletter, Orangutans and More! and receive a free coloring page of today’s illustration.